Watermelons and teens need room to grow in

August 31, 2002|By ROB KASPER

AS FOLKS WHO get down in the dirt know, a key to summer happiness is growing something just for grins. We are not talking heirloom, ego-involved production here. Instead we are talking about a spontaneous, "what-the-hey" harvest.

Casual crops touch on the very yin and yang of the gardening experience, which, as the grubby sorts who are still scratching the ground this Labor Day weekend know, is part plan and part providence.

The other day, for instance, when I stubbed my toe on a basketball-size watermelon that appeared in the vegetable garden, I felt like I had stumbled upon a pot of gold. It seemed to come out of nowhere.

In truth it came from a vine I had planted some weeks before with the hopes that it would cover up the bare spots in the middle of my rented municipal garden plot in Druid Hill Park. That vine was a dynamo, a much more effective cover crop, or so I am told, than some of that treatment some guys put on their bald spots.

The vine was also more invasive, depending on your political point of view, than the FBI or creeping socialism. It pushed into everybody's business, insinuated itself in the tomato cages, mingled with the mint, cavorted with the peppers.

Such unfettered deportment is the reason that some folks refuse, on philosophical grounds, to plant watermelon. It won't behave.

Part of the payback you get for investing time, money and mental anguish in the "leisure activity" known as gardening is seeing a plan come to fruition. You put certain plants in certain places; you feed them prescribed diets. You mark time by the regular arrival of crop or the blossoming of flowers.

I can understand the appeal of such precision. I often feel that the world will little note nor long remember what I accomplished during the past week. Yet when I see a ripe tomato hanging on a vine, it seems to be proof that at some level I am making progress on this planet.

Watermelon vines, on the other hand, bristle at confinement. Like teen-agers, they sprawl, push boundaries and grow at an astonishing rate seemingly in the middle of the night. To share space with watermelons or teen-agers, you have to tolerate chaos.

Every Memorial Day, at the start of the gardening season, I see myself as a man with a plan, the Robert Moses of backyard agriculture, a schemer toting a piece of paper showing the name and location of each plant.

But by Labor Day weekend, when the heat and feral powers of Nature have overwhelmed my blueprint, I am merely trying to go with the flow.

The watermelon vine, for instance, which in June was small and docile, suddenly turned gangly and assertive in August. I couldn't control it. I merely nagged at it, stopping it from choking the eggplant, redirecting offshoots to safer ground, nourishing it from time to time with a spritz of water and seaweed. It got bigger, yet still seemed unproductive, like a lump on the family room sofa. It was all vines, no fruit.

Then the other day, I ventured into the wildest corner of the garden, a patch of ground ruled by the bullying mint and horseradish, the spot where hordes of bumblebees, yellow jackets and big bad bugs battle for dominance.

I tripped over an outstretched part of the watermelon vine. I was mad. I turned to chastise it, to yank it back into submission. That was is when I spotted the melon, hiding in the mint, as big as a basketball.

So as schools open and the garden makes its final push (made much more exciting by the recent rainfall brought on by folks engaging in those rainmaking rituals last weekend), I wait, and I watch. When the tendril nearest the stem turns dry and brown, the Crimson Sweet watermelon will be ready to harvest, a surprise ending to a trying summer.

Right now, like those kids heading back to school, the watermelon is full of promise, but not quite mature.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.