Support Hose

Melon SupportSo, you’ve got a container garden and you’re determined to grow melons. Good for you. If your garden is 15 feet off the ground, though, what happens when your perfectly ripened ball-shaped melons fall spontaneously off the vines?

Splat. That’s what.

This pair of well-worn and snagged tights are offering a much needed safety net to tomorrow’s melons.

A Handful of Melons

Conventional wisdom (and most gardeners) will tell you that melons aren’t great candidates for containers. And it’s true, most melons aren’t. If you do your homework carefully,  however, you may surprise yourself with a nice crop of sweet, tasty muskmelons. Look for dwarf or bush varieties and vines that aren’t likely to exceed 3-4 feet.

Minnesota Midget
Minnesota Midget

What you see here is a fast-ripening Minnesota Midget. These little guys grow to about 4-6 inches in diameter (about 1/2 lb) and pretty much fall right off the vine when they’re ripe. Two plants are happily (mostly) thriving in this five-gallon bucket and earlier in the season, to maximize growing space, a nice batch of chard was keeping them company.

These cantaloupes are just about perfect for roof deck gardeners: they ripen much more quickly than traditional melons, the plants are relatively compact, and best of all, are resistant to diseases and wilt. With Philly’s hot summers, heat-loving melons really do make a lot of sense.

POD has tried both direct seeding and transplanting and has found that direct seeding works best in zone 7. Patiently wait until early summer and temperatures have warmed (65 degrees or so) and then stick ’em in the ground. Make sure you build a trellis so you can train the plant to grow upward, conserving precious growing space. Alas, with the approach of fall, the little blue deck’s hours of direct sunlight are rapidly dwindling so melons that mature in 70-90 days are also critical requirements.

We’ve enjoyed two years of sweet little Midgets and it’s time to consider alternatives for next year:

Emerald Green, 2-3 lbs, 70-90 days
Green Nutmeg, 2-3 lbs, 70-80 days
Golden Jenny, 3/4-1 lb, 85 days (insect resistant)
Petit Gris de Rennes, 2-3 lbs, 80-85 days
Sakata’s Sweet, 1-2 lbs, 85-95 days
Sleeping Beauty 1/2-1lb, 85 days
Savor, 1-2 lbs, 70-80 days (disease resistant)

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds seem to have an excellent selection of seeds.

Sprouts Sprouting!

These six Brussels Sprout seeds were planted a little over a week ago. Already they’re reaching out to grab every ray of sunlight they can. POD knows the feeling.

brussels sprouts seedlings in teeny peat pots
brussels sprout seedlings in teeny peat pots

The little peat seeding containers are really quite wonderful. They can be purchased pretty inexpensively and they make transplanting incredibly simple. Many are even made of recycled material or contain organic fertilizers. Come planting time, all you need to do is rip the bottom out (so the roots can grow more freely) and drop the entire container into the soil, making sure to cover the lip of the pot with a layer of soil. Best of all, they’re biodegradable.

Obviously, they’re probably a little more difficult for folks who plant crops in quantities larger than oh, say three plants, but for container gardeners, they’re a great way to go. They’re gaping holes of thirst, though. You’ll need to check on your wee seedlings daily to make sure they’re getting adequate water.

What’s a Determinate?

determinate vs. indeterminate tomatoesIf you ignore the yellowing, early blighted leaves (which were snipped moments after this photo was snapped), you’ll see a still-producing Isis Candy cherry tomato towering above its neighboring Gold Nugget.

It towers because it’s an indeterminate — that is, it keeps going and growing and going. Until diseases finally fell is, that is. The Gold Nugget, one the other hand, has about had its day. It has reached its determined height, produced a couple pounds of tomatoes, and is about to expire.

The determinate vs. indeterminate is an important consideration for gardeners, especially those with limited space. Like, for instance, this particular roof deck gardener.

This year, POD selected two indeterminate varieties (the late Chocolate Cherry and the ailing Isis Candy) and two determinate varieties (Gold Nugget and Tumbling Tom). Because POD’s seduced by the idea of an ever-growing, ever-producing tomato, the larger and ungangly and space-hogging indeterminate is quite fetching. However, because disease is a constant lurking threat, the short(er)-lived and compact determinate has its merits.

Planting Fever

Each week (or so) we have a few friends over for dinner, and while I was busy stirring POD’s thai chilies into the evening’s much-delayed lemongrass curry, our dear friend began asking all sorts of interesting gardening questions.

Clearly he’s caught the gardening bug. Poor thing.

He came to his addiction late, though, and is wondering what the heck he can still plant now that daylight is on the wane and Philadelphia has turned into the soupy humid swamp that is late July.

So, dear friend, here are a few suggestions for July, who knows, you just may see them sprouting up on deck soon. Let’s give it a whirl together:

Brussels Sprouts (October-December harvest)
Cauliflower
(December-March harvest) — Look for the following varieties: Needles and Purple Cape
Parsnips (November-December harvest)

Check back in a couple of weeks and see what works for August sowing.

Haricots Verts, Sil Vous Plait?

Green beans are a wonderful, wonderful thing. If you’re an urban gardener, odds are you don’t have room forfilet nickel the gorgeous towering beans castles that make one of gardens POD knows so striking. (Well, the beanscrapers and the adjoining poulet maison, really tag-team the eye-catching.)

The perfect solution for roof deck gardens? Filet nickel — a high-yield, short-lived French bush bean. These little suckers do well in two-gallon buckets — two plants in each bucket. They grow quickly and produce in one or two concentrated spurts. It means you’ll have to replant often, but POD tends to have several buckets at different stages of maturity to keep a steady stream of beans flowing into the kitchen.

Since beans are highly susceptible to disease this quick rotation keeps nasties in check, too.

Move It and Use It

With limited space for plants on deck, it was time to sacrifice the lovely chard and give the delightful Minnesota Midgets a little more breathing room. Midgets are an excellent choice for container gardens — the soft-ball sized fruits are sweet and juicy and can handle the limited space. Three vines are currently creeping their way up a hand-trussed bamboo trellis.

Minnesota Midget
Minnesota Midget

While it may seem nothing short of insane  to grow muskmelons (cantaloupes) in a five-gallon bucket on a roof deck garden, they worked pretty well last year — despite misfires at the transplanting stage. Melon Growing Tip: if your climate is warm enough,  don’t transplant your melons. They germinate quickly if you wait until the weather has thoroughly warmed.

Thus far, blossoms abound and the deeply-rooted space-hogging chard has been replaced by a shallow-rooted summer lettuce.

Goodbye chard.

the end of chard
the end of chard