Friday, March 2, 2012

On Melon Houses and planting new fruit varieties

If you've read my blog much at all, I'm sure you've picked up on the fact that I have a huge sweet tooth. When you combine that with gardening you end up in all sorts of trouble.

I LOVE to grow fruit, and this year I have decided to pull out all of the stops. I'll be planting new varieties of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants and gooseberries - new to me, that is. Nearly every variety that I'm adding to my garden this year is from before the 1950's. The few exceptions include a modern white currant cultivar that I bought to compare to several antique cultivars that I've ordered, and of course Mara Des Bois strawberries, which I am in love with despite their modern origins. I'll post more on the berry additions later.

For now, take a look at what I've been designing and planning over the past few weeks!

It may not look like much, especially in my chicken scratchy handwriting and sketching, but this is hopefully going to be my adaptation of the British Victorian melon house. The whole thing will be covered with plastic, like a green house, but suspended midway (angled around approximately 2' above the soil) will be a cattle panel (heavy duty welded wire grid). The idea is that I will plant a row of melons at the back of the house (the small end). The vines will grow up the back of the house and onto the cattle panel where they will continue to sprawl outwards across the gaps in the panel. When they finally fruit, the fruit will hang down and I will tie it with simple cotton netting to hold it in place.

This set up will allow for air flow to help prevent mildew, cover to provide early heat for the plants and to prevent cucumber beetles from wreaking havoc on the poor flowers, and control of pollination. My plan is to hand pollinate all of the melons myself (Ooh, I'd love to use an authentic rabbit-tail pollinator! How cool!)

The other thing this set up will allow me to do is grow strawberries beneath the melons. June bearing strawberries tend to reach their peak in (duh) June, which is long before the melons would reach across to the front of the trellis. While the melons are making their first meager inches up to the trellis, the strawberries will be fruitful, planted in a row along the front of the bed. I'll also be hand pollinating these strawberries, which means I'll be able to play around with breeding a bit if I really get the drive. In between the strawberries and the melon plants will be some cutting greens, spinach and tom thumb buttercrunch lettuce.

Also, a slight miscalculation lead me to build these houses 6" shorter than the length of the raised beds. I intend to plant snap peas in a single row along the north side of each bed in this space to help fix a bit of nitrogen and to add some diversity. If cucumber beetles become a real nuisance, I'll tear out the peas and put some rattail radishes in instead. 

No inch unplanted, that's my motto!

So in a fit of intense mania this morning, I began to build my melon houses. Heavy rains and storms were forecasted but I managed to get all three beds ready for the installation of the cattle panels. Once those are in place, I'll attach the final beams, some additional supports, and cover them in tensed 4mm plastic! I've never been a fan of using plastic in the garden, but glass is just not feasible at this point in my life :) I'm sure you understand...

So, this is what I've been madly researching, designing and executing lately. 

Are you planning anything exciting in your gardens this March?