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Discovering Watermelon All Over Again

Posted 8/10/2010 3:18pm by Ty Zemelsky.

July 30,2010
Things happen fast on a farm.  Not only that, but when I see something different, I am shocked that it actually happened.  Take watermelon, for example.  We start them in small pots in early April.  The seeds are soaked the night before  to help them germinate faster.  Then there is a little waiting while they sit on the heat pads so that the soil remains warm to further speed up germination.  After 5-6 days, the plant emerges- cotyledon first.  It is a different shaped leaf from what the plant will look like-just a promise of what is to come.  After tending them for a while, and watering, and talking to them and thinking about what is to come next - we are ready to get them planted.  This year, they are all the way down at the bottom of the farm next to "New Day" ,our  144' x 30' high tunnel.  We plant them out in rows 4 feet apart - a foot and a half between plants.  A row of drip tape lies down the middle of the row to deliver a small trickle of water whenever its needed.  Black plastic is put down between the rows.  This would be mid to late May.  Can't put them out too early.  If the soil or the air is still too cold, these plants could languish or even die.   Even so, for the first few weeks, nothing seems to happen.  They don't die, but they don't grow either.  I begin to panic a little.  What if there is no watermelon this year?  The idea  sends a small panic thru my mind.  But I calm myself and remember to be patient.  Eventually,  all this waiting pays off.  The vine begins to grow.  And then it grows some more and eventually the black plastic disappears beneath a sea of healthy vines.  This is followed by the emergence of tiny golf sized melons.  That would be around the beginning of July.  Every day, we give a watch to these ever larger sized melons until one fatal day when our grandson has a look at them.  "They're ready, Grampy.  Let's pick one!"  He's more than excited.  So am I.  I get closer to one promising specimen and inspect closer for the  three signs of ripeness.  Firstly, there's the dying curly sprig opposite where the melon attaches to the vine.  It should be totally dead and dried out.  This reminds me of those roasting chickens that have a thermometer pop out when it is cooked enough.  This particular sprig is totally dead.  A good sign.  Then there is the yellow spot underneath the melon where it touches the ground. That's what this one is.   Another positive sign.  Lastly, the melon needs to "thump" properly.  This is the more abstract sign of a ripe melon.  According to ancient wisdom, it needs to sound hollow.  This takes years of practices.  Probably a lot of failures, too!  This thump works for us.  With a quick assembly of bravery, we decide to cut it from the vine and bring it to the house to be cut up.  Watermelons don't particularly ripen well off the vine, so you got to pick it ripe the first time.  Not like heirloom tomatoes, who are happy to keep ripening after you pick them.  Once inside the house we all gather round the cutting board.  Now its also Ty, and our granddaughter and my sister, Judy-a whole crowd to watch the first melon of the season together.  Now, we're all excited.  I take the biggest knife we have and give it a big whack-hoping for all red.  A moment of suspense and then a parting of the two halves.  RED!  Success!  There's yelps and other sounds of excitement from all sides.  Quickly pieces are divided up and soon there are drippy happy faces everywhere.  Such a long wait for this moment and so sweet it ultimately is! And this brings me back to being shocked.  For that is how I feel now.  Besides the incredibly sweet experience of watermelon, I can not believe that all that time has gone by to transform those small seeds into this bundle of green and red energy.  We are indeed lucky.

Having said all that about melons,  you might be surprised that I didn't mention the tomato crop first.  Could have written the same story and substituted  the tomato for melon.  An even longer wait from seed to fruit and 10 times the work.  Our crop is pouring in now.  We've managed several 2 pound striped german tomatoes and equally impressive, but smaller green zebra.  The list goes on, but I won't burden you with the rest of it right now except for the Juliet.  This tomato has been named by me as the one I would take to a desert island if I had to choose only one.  It isn't an heirloom, but it's personality beats out all the rest. The fruit is smaller, deep red and shaped like a lopsided rugby ball.  Here is a tomato that doesn't care whether you eat it off the vine, cook it on pizza or dry it in the oven.  Either way,  it will knock your socks off for full flavor.  I can not overstate how delicious this tomato is.  If you come to a market, please visit our tent for a free sample.  You'll get what I am taking about right away.

On August 29th, we are going to be hosting a Farm Dinner prepared and served by Chef Scott Miller and his staff from Max's Oyster Bar of West Hartford.  Scott sits at the front of the boat as far as seeking out Connecticut grown products, whether it is cheese, meat, fish or produce.  He would be classified as a local hero in our book.  We are really excited about this upcoming event.  If you are interested-visited the Oyster Bar website at maxdiningcard.com  to make reservations.  We'd love to have you be part of the evening.