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2017 Garden Plans: Bed 3 – Vertical Garden

We have a dedicated “Vertical” garden again this year, featuring the cattle panel trellises. We do try to change up what we’re growing, and this year we are featuring cantaloupe, watermelon, and cucumbers.

The cucumbers include a pickler, a slicer, and an English/European type. The ‘Arkansas Little Leaf’ is a pickler with smaller diameter leaves than a usual variety that is also heat and disease tolerant. The ‘Lime Crisp’ has bright green skin rather than darker green as is usual. ‘Tyria’ is a parthenocarpic (seedless) English variety. We had another variety selected, but it cost about $1.25 per seed, and we couldn’t buy less than 50 seeds…so that was a NO.

We have done cantaloupe in the past, but we have always stuck to the smaller fruited varieties. This year we have ‘Lilliput,’ which is a new personal size variety that is supposed to be very sweet. But then we chose two other varieties, ‘Maverick’ and ‘Sarah’s Choice’ that are larger. ‘Sarah’s Choice’ is a 3 pound melon, and ‘Maverick’ is a 4-5 pound melon. It will be fun to see how successful they are in the trellis system.

The watermelons are also a range of sizes and characteristics. We haven’t had great success with watermelons on the trellis, but we are still going to try them again! ‘Golden Crown’ is a yellow rind, red fleshed, seeded watermelon. It is an All America Selection from several years ago. It has 5-7 lb. fruit. ‘New Queen’ is an orange fleshed, seeded watermelon that is 5-6 lbs, also an All America Selection. ‘Mini Love’ is a new variety this year that is also an All America Selection. It is red fleshed, seeded, with 7-9 lb. fruit. This variety is supposed to have 3-4′ vines but still up to 6 fruit per plant. It seems like a lot of large fruit for not much vine. I’m excited to see how it performs. As an All America Selection, it should be a consistent producer.

Vertical Garden Year in Review

Our Vertical Garden area was much smaller this year than the past couple years, but it still yielded some very interesting results. We focused mostly on melons and for the first time found a melon that seems to not adapt to the trellising.

We tried two watermelons, the ‘Little Baby Flower’ red, seeded watermelon and the ‘Yellow Mini Tiger’ seedless watermelon. The ‘Little Baby Flower’ did very well, with lots of melons set that grew well and tasted great. They did crack when we had the rainy spell mid-summer, but that isn’t abnormal. The melons were okay on the trellis, although it was better to tie them up somewhat. It was also easy to identify ripe melons by looking at the nearest tendrils.

The ‘Yellow Mini Tiger’ had problems from the outset. As a seedless variety, we needed to plant the variety seeds and the pollinator seed. The pollinator grew readily, but we had to plant all 10 of the variety seeds to get a single plant growing. That wasn’t an auspicious start! We finally had one plant growing, after a few weeks. As the summer wore on, we had melons set on both the pollinator and the variety vines. Unfortunately, the melons were just large enough and the vines just brittle enough that they kept falling off the vine before they were completely ripe. Maybe we waited too long to try tying them up, but we lost a number of melons to breakage. The vine didn’t set nearly as many melons as the ‘Little Baby Flower’ and we never got a fully ripe melon. So…not so much a winner, at least on the trellis!

The other melon trellis was some more specialty melons, with the ‘Sun Jewel’ Asian melon and the ‘Snow Leopard’ honeydew melon. Both of these melons did relatively well. The honeydew was fairly productive, especially once we got the hang of knowing when they were ripe. It wasn’t as productive as some of the cantaloupe varieties we’ve grown in other years, but was still good. (The ‘Snow Leopard’ honeydew was a white fleshed melon.) The ‘Sun Jewel’ Asian melon was very productive, although it cracked in the rain and then slowed down a lot later in the summer. The thing with the ‘Sun Jewel’ melon is that it is different from what we expect of a melon. I was telling everyone that if you thought of it as a melon, you would be disappointed in the flavor, but that if you expected it to taste like a sweet cucumber it would be enjoyable.

The last part of the Vertical Garden is the vegetable arbor. I’m only going to talk about the two varieties that were on the Vertical Garden side in this post. I’ll save the other two varieties for my discussion of the Kids’ Snack Garden. The ‘Golden Honey Bunch’ cherry tomato and the cucumber were on the Vertical Garden side of the trellis. The cucumber – well, I doubt it was the fault of the individual variety. We just didn’t get it up and growing in a timely fashion. We ended up trying a couple different varieties and still struggled with germination. Not that it mattered…the tomato completely filled the trellis all on its own! The ‘Golden Honey Bunch’ was a real star in the garden this year! The tomatoes tasted great and the production was spectacular.

Friday PhotoEssay

Hurray for cooler weather! I was ready for some more fall-like temperatures.

Our “whole garden” view for this week clearly shows the increased brown coloration of the tomatoes. If you get close, you can see that we’ve had a resurgence in spider mites. There’s also lots of browning foliage in the trellis plants too. I’m afraid this is going to turn out to be a little bit of a “death & destruction” edition of the Friday PhotoEssay, as I look through my pictures.

The honeydew melon is showing the beginning of powdery mildew on the leaves. The mildew is that slight greyish cast to the leaves in spots and splotches. It almost looks like there is a weird glare to the picture. If I wanted to treat, I would have to do it right now. By next week it will probably be so widespread that we can’t get it back under control. We could spray sulfur, neem oil, or potassium bicarbonate if we wanted to.  We often see powdery mildew starting in mid-August, but this year it was cool and wet then. The hot, dry weather the past couple weeks is ideal for powdery mildew to develop. We will probably remove these plants next week.

Although we see the fruitworm holes often enough, we don’t always see the caterpillar eating its way through the whole tomato. You can tell this one has been hungry!

I found this melon sitting on the ground under one of the pepper plants yesterday afternoon. Not wanting to let it go to waste, I decided to check it out. Once again, the ‘Yellow Mini Tiger’ watermelon fell off the vine before it was fully ripe. The flavor was okay, but still fairly bland. I’m afraid this one is going to be a “not recommended” for using on a trellis, since they seem to fall off the vines too easily.

The cabbages are getting a little crazy. The caterpillar damage isn’t so bad at the moment, and they’ve grown a huge amount. They are perhaps a little close together, but only 2 across might have been a little far apart. We will just have slightly smaller heads of cabbage.

There are those pesky spider mites. One of the Master Gardeners asked if we were going to treat. What do you think? My thought was, no way! With the weather cooling off and the tomato plants declining already, it isn’t worth it to try fighting spider mites right now, at least not in my book.

Have a great weekend!

How To Tell if a Trellised Watermelon is Ripe

After my post last week about harvesting and tasting a couple of melons, I emailed with a reader who was wondering how to tell if her trellised watermelons were ripe and ready to pick.

The real challenge is that the typical “first sign” is to look for the yellow spot on the bottom where it is sitting on the ground…except that there is no spot on trellised melons! The next guideline (which can vary with variety) is to look for the tendril closest to the melon to see if it is dying and drying to brown. The other guideline is to feel the rind for “sugar bumps,” tiny bumps that develop when there is a high sugar concentration, signalling ripeness.

Now in my book, the yellow spot is most reliable, and the options become increasingly unreliable. Sugar bumps? Really? Of course, lots of people use the “thumping” method, but that isn’t very reliable either. I think some people are better at it than others, but you still sometimes get a dud.

Anyway, long story short, I decided to go out and take a look at the vine to see if there was any sign of the tendrils browning – either where we had picked a couple melons earlier this week or next to some of the other melons on the vine. And what do you know? There were brown tendrils!

So now the next step is to correlate the brown tendrils with actual ripe, tasty watermelons.

UPDATE: I picked 3 watermelons on Friday that we tried at the Saturday Sampler this weekend. One was actually overripe and decaying, (which I thought had a still green tendril, but maybe not…) The one that had a fully dried tendril was perfect, and the one that was still drying down was good, but not as good as the other one. So in this case, the tendrils are a good guide!

Melon Harvest

I happened to notice on Monday that one of the ‘Little Baby Flower’ Watermelons was cracked, and it looked nice and ripe (from what I could see through the nylon stocking). Yesterday, we picked the cracked melon and after some thought and thumping (which is not the recommended way to gauge ripeness), I decided to pick the largest watermelon as well and see if it was ripe. We also ended up picking one of the ‘Snow Leopard’ Honeydew Melons.

This is obviously the cracked watermelon. It was a pretty fresh crack Monday morning, but by yesterday the ants had swarmed like crazy. You can see the bigger one in the background, still in its stocking.

This is the bigger melon. It was fairly good sized…maybe 10″ long?

Yum! I could tell from the way it cut open that it was really ripe. Luckily, it wasn’t overripe. This is a seeded variety, obviously. The rind is very thin, which is probably one of the reasons the other one cracked. It was very sweet and delicious!

This is the ‘Snow Leopard’ Honeydew Melon. Yes, the green spots and flecks are supposed to be there. The skin has clearly changed from being more green hued to more creamy hued.

Yes, the flesh is supposed to be white. We apparently have an aversion to choosing green fleshed honeydew melon varieties. (Last year we had an orange fleshed honeydew.) The flavor was good, but I wouldn’t call it spectacular. I think the sweetness was probably diluted by all the rain and that it may not have been perfectly ripe. Or maybe the variety is just not super sweet?

We have harvested at least one of all the melons now, except for the ‘Honey Bun’ cantaloupes, which were planted late. The ‘Yellow Mini Tiger’ melons we haven’t gotten a ripe one yet, but they seem to fall off the vine early. They are probably too heavy to be suited for the trellis system, especially if they don’t get supported early.