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Coffee with Mimi

Gardening for fun teaches appreciation for real gardeners

BY MIMI BECKER

 Community columnist

The garden is perking along. Vegetables and herbs I planted so optimistically in the spring have not disappointed. Each variety, with one stubborn exception, has actually done what it is supposed to do despite my near total ignorance of gardening.

The one holdout is a particular variety of tomato. However, all is not lost as two of the three varieties planted are producing quite nicely. The third, which I had never heard of nor eaten before, has put forth three buds on decently healthy foliage. There is hope yet, though it is August and by now I would have expected something productive to be happening

The pepper plants have distinguished themselves. They are remarkably lush and leafy and have required absolutely no work whatsoever. We have harvested several nice green peppers. 

That isn’t what they are supposed to be. According to the plant markers stuck in the individual pots at time of purchase, one of these guys is supposed to be a pimiento pepper and the other a chocolate bell pepper.

Now I know there is no such thing as a chocolate pepper. Wouldn’t that be something if ready to eat chocolate could be grown in my own backyard.

A chocolate pepper, according to the internet, is dark brown on the outside and red on the inside when it reaches maturity. Furthermore, it is considered an early maturing variety. 

I think August is past early in the life cycle of a garden in this zone and those chocolate peppers are as green as the day is long. Tastes like a regular old bell pepper, not the tantalizing sweetness described on the internet.  

As for the pimiento pepper – it is supposed to be red at time of maturity. My source says maturity is 100 days. We might get there. 

Maturity date is counted from transplanting of the little seedling to the production of a full size piece of fruit, or vegetable. Well, there is still a possibility. 

The plant was acquired in early May when it was about 6 inches tall. So, let’s say its birthday was May 1. Fine, I give it until next week and that green fellow had better be red.  

Still wondering about those plant markers.

The peppers and tomatoes aren’t the only entertainment in the garden this year. I bought a cantaloupe plant. This wasn’t just any cantaloupe plant. The plant tag said it was an Emma Cantaloupe.

No self-respecting grandmother with a granddaughter named Emma is going to leave that cantaloupe plant on the shelf. Home it goes and into the garden.

Cantaloupes, pumpkins and watermelons have one thing in common. One day, the plants look like you wasted your time and garden real estate, and the next you are chasing the vines across the back yard.

Go away for the weekend and you will return to find vines snaking towards the neighbor’s driveway. To the non-farming gardener, the vines look healthy, and worthless. There may be a few blossoms here and there, but no other action.

A cantaloupe should mature in 80 to 90 days. Again, with a May 1st birthday —  maybe in the deep south, but not here.

Go away for the weekend, maybe visit Emma. 

Behold, a cantaloupe the size of a soccer ball is resting nicely along one of the vines, but that is it. 

I really didn’t expect to go into the business of cantaloupe farming, but just one?  

I weeded carefully around the vines extending in every direction all through the tomato, pepper and herb plants. There are zillions of blossoms, but not one more cantaloupe. 

No big deal, the original investment was minimal and the cost of the plant will be more than recouped with the one harvested cantaloupe, eventually. The thing is sitting there on the bare ground causing concern it will rot before it ever attains the perfect brown skin all crackled looking with just a touch of green showing through.

Eighty to 90 days, my foot.

Since the tomatoes are starting to provide sufficiently for salads and BLT’s at a nice pace, and the peppers are useful, just not the advertised brown or red, I can live with one single cantaloupe. After all, I don’t garden to provide all our vegetable needs. I do this for the fun of it.  This year it’s the cantaloupe, next year it will be something else. A few years ago, it was pumpkins which sprouted from the composted Jack ‘O Lanterns we carved at Halloween. 

When what to my wondering eyes did appear? Six little cantaloupes about the size of softballs.  Well, little Emma has come through. Now, we wait.  

I was talking with my mother who grew up on a serious working farm. Planting, tending, and harvesting a variety of crops was their business. 

There were acres of produce for market. An additional, extensive garden fed the family well all growing season. My grandmother preserved from that garden all summer long to enjoy through to the next summer.

My gardening efforts border on the whimsical and comical. I am truly in awe of those who do garden with purpose.

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