Tomatoes are the big deal in the garden this week. It's no different at my house, but watermelon seems to be closing in.
Back in May, which sounds so long ago, we purchased vegetable plants for our ever-shrinking garden. The husband, who is always looking for a challenge, decided he would save a few plants to grow inside the greenhouse. Years ago, he put a small raised bed on one side so I could start cool weather crops a full month earlier than usual. The sun provided enough heat throughout the day to keep the greenhouse from falling into dangerous late spring, early fall, overnight temperatures that are lethal to some plants, but welcoming for those that don't mind a few below freezing nights. I planted kale, spinach, beets, radishes and scallions in the bed, and they always did very well. By the time summer's heat kicked in, those plants were harvested, and the bed sat empty until mid-August when those same vegetables were planted again.
But I haven't used the bed for a couple years, and rather than see it sitting empty all season, the husband decided he would fill it up this season with a few tomatoes and a couple watermelon plants. I had my doubts. I know how hot it can get inside the greenhouse in the middle of summer. This summer broke records for hot, dry days and even though we have a thermal cover for the greenhouse, we didn't use it this year. The windows and vents were left open day and night and every day he went to the greenhouse to water, stake, pinch and pamper.
The husband and I have the same dialog each spring. It goes something like this:
Husband: I don't know why you keep trying to grow (insert any challenging vegetable here). It never does very well.
Me: I always have hope.
It's easy for him to make this comment because he doesn't eat many vegetables, but that doesn't stop him from attempting to grow watermelon every year for the past 40 years.
Buying the largest, healthiest plants or starting them from seed as early as we can still doesn't guarantee a ripe melon or two before the plants either succumb to a wilt disease or the melons just don't have enough time to ripen adequately. As late as October, we've picked robust-looking melons before the frost takes them out completely, only to cut them open and find they are still pale pink inside. Sure, we could plant the small Sugar Babies, but that's not nearly as much fun as trying to get a really big, ripe melon before the end of the season.
This season might be the one. Not only are the vines stretching across the greenhouse floor, but he has lifted what young, tender fruit the plant managed to produce onto the bench where at least two growing melons rest comfortably on a tray. This set up reminds me of photos I've seen of vertically growing melons sitting on shelves along a fence to keep them off the wet ground where they might rot.
''I turn them every day,'' he said.
These have to be the most pampered melons growing in northeast Ohio at this moment.
Although I didn't buy it early in the season, he is making a believer of me. In addition to the melons, last week he presented me with no less than eight ripe tomatoes. I have yet to get a ripe tomato from the larger, outdoor garden, but inside the steamy hot greenhouse, tomatoes are turning red, and watermelon are as big as soccer balls.
I don't believe the excessive heat inside the greenhouse had anything to do with it. I think it was all in the watering. The larger garden was hand watered two or three times a week during the hottest days last month. In previous seasons, we installed soaker hoses in the big garden, but since they aged, cracked and split from use, they haven't been replaced.
I spoke to a gentleman last week who told me he, too, has been picking tomatoes from his vines for quite some time. The plants, he said, are along his house, and he waters them every day. Just like the husband, who waters his greenhouse plants every day, those that have been given more than just a sip here and there are much more further along, even though they were planted at exactly the same time.
Next year, the soaker hoses are going back in the big garden. Forget about growing jicama or sweet potatoes. The gauntlet has been thrown. I want the first ripe tomato. Maybe I'll toss in a melon plant as well.