At a certain point, the squash riot.
It's not a question of if, but when. Squash and melons are something I direct-seed in my garden, as they are difficult to transplant due to the delicacy of their seedlings' root systems. Hence they are latecomers in the garden beds, and sometimes they seem reluctant to grow. Early transplants of tomato outpace them at first. The March-planted salad garden is likely to be spent before the melons and squash and cukes show much vigor.
But they are plotting and when the time is right, they virtually explode, coiled tendrils spooling out to seize holds on fences and trellises, climbing and spreading their spatulate leaves, blooming profusely and hanging their sweet promised fruits in the sun.
This fine specimen is a Petit Gris de Rennes Melon, a delicious French cantaloupe first recorded 400 years ago and renown since for its sweet flesh, reminiscent of brown sugar. These are one of the success stories in my garden this summer. I put several plants in each of two hills of compost and made sure they had plenty of water and a trellis to climb. I let them alone—even went out of town for a few weeks—and when I returned, they had indeed rioted, growing so profusely and vigorously that I was obliged to spend significant time carefully tying up and training the vines, heavy with small fruit and sprawling everywhere.
If I knew more about botany,
and specifically the science behind phases of growth in particular
plants, I could explain the signals and responses that bring on the explosion of cucurbitaceae vines. This family of plants includes cucumbers, squash, and melons, and while some other plants have struggled through an unusual and challenging spring/summer, the curcurbits are mad with growth. Check out the Guatemalan Blue Banana Squash, below—sluggish before my vacation, thuggish after my return. These vines have not only climbed the 5' fence but have spread out twice that far in every direction.
These variegated grey-blue squash grow up to 20 inches long and weigh 5 lbs or more, providing a whopping dose of vitamin A, along with vitamin C, calcium, and iron. I keep one in the refrigerator, slicing off a couple of thick rounds to easily roast as a side dish for any meal.
There is just something about vines that fascinates me. The tendrils subtly resist the hand that tends them, pliable enough to accept the handling but strong enough to grip and ultimately hold when the fruits hang heavy in late summer. These specialized parts of the plant are monomaniacal in their reaching out for a hold, a vegetative insistence that seems almost intelligent, if obviously narrowly limited. And clearly, I'm getting way too excited about a plant here, but that's what gardeners do.
To be sure, there are other pleasures in the high summer garden. June brought the establishing growth of many plants and has now given way to the high heat of July. In response, plants are taking on a mature aspect and as summer tips toward autumn (yes, we're well past solistice and the green things know it) , the point becomes to blossom and set fruit.
The hardest work of gardening comes at the beginning and the end—planting and harvesting. This is not news. But I take time at the apex of the season to recognize the lull of July when a little nurturing and care goes a long way. There's less labor and more languid appreciation. And the food has begun to roll in, so meal planning begins with a stroll through the garden, basket in hand, to select the garden bounty and work from there toward a flavorful and nutritious meal.
I love the vines of July, in all their permutations.