Monster Moon & Stars And the Vole Hole Mystery!!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

I'm pleased to report that MELON season is now kicking into high gear in our North Natomas backyard -- but somewhat displeased to also report that Bill & Venus aren't really benefitting all that much.

Now -- to be perfectly honest? We did enjoy this MONSTER Moon & Stars Watermelon this morning for breakfast. I don't know how this melon got into the 25 lb. range. It certainly isn't supposed to get this large. But it did -- it was -- and boy was it ever good.

The cantaloupe harvest -- however -- has a somewhat different story. More on that in a moment. I haven't finished bragging yet about the Moon & Stars.

Venus and I harvested our first whopper of a watermelon two weeks ago. This was also an heirloom variety called a Tom Watson. It promised melons in the 40 lb. range -- and this vine hasn't disappointed. However, we also picked the first melon a tad early. I knew it as soon as I'd split it open. While the center was indeed a nice ruby-red color, it's clear the melon would have benefitted from another week or two on the vine.

So we left them on the vine.

That wait paid off in droves on this Labor Day Monday. The vine connecting to the monster sized Moon & Stars melon had mysteriously died off. I wouldn't find out why until today. But, since the vine had died off weeks earlier, it was time to bring it in and cut it open.

Splitting this monster in two brought the biggest smile to my face -- and the photo will clearly show why. The melon was -- indeed -- at its peak ripeness. It wasn't under-ripe. It wasn't over-ripe. The flesh was sweet, crunchy and refreshing. It's just one of those "melon moments" from the garden. The melon that I had watched grow with anticipation all through the summer delivered a knockout punch of taste.

But the best part is -- there's a lot leftover. And the seeds from this "Monster Melon" will be saved for next season.

When the vine that produced this monster first started to die back two weeks ago -- I was more than concerned. Why that vine? What went wrong? Why didn't the other vines die off? Why just that one vine? Was it chemical? Was it critter? Those answers would come today in the form of a surprise.

We've been picking ripe cantaloupes for the past month, without giving it much thought. Some were on the small side -- but there were also a few "champion" cantaloupes that I've been watching grow with anticipation. The time to pick one of those melons came just this morning -- and boy was I disappointed.

When I felt the undersides of these cantaloupes -- my joy and anticipation vanished. What greeted me was a shock. They were soft. They had rotted through. I had waited too long -- or so I thought.

When I attempted to harvest one of these cantaloupes with the hopes of saving something -- that nice, firm, orange rind suddenly collapsed inward. The melon was GONE -- or as the photo to your left clearly shows -- half gone. What had gone wrong?

The answer lay underneath each cantaloupe in my raised bed. Do you know what I found? A critter hole! A family -- or several families -- of Voles (mice) had not only invaded the raised bed -- they managed to avoid the detection of the four hunter-killer cats that regularly patrol the backyard.

How?

The voles had avoided detection by digging a series of tunnels up from the main home to just underneath the cantaloupe target in question. From the underside -- they managed to easily pierce the cantaloupe and muskmellon rind -- and proceeded to literally clean out the inside of each melon.

From the top view? Everything looked fine and dandy. I saw ripening melons. But underneath? A different story completely. The moles had been hard at work. Telltale holes are everywhere underneath the melon patch -- and it was there where I found the remains of the Moon & Stars vine that produced the giant melon pictured above.

As it turns out -- the moles couldn't pierce the rind of watermelons like the Moon & Stars -- but that didn't matter. They ate away at the root system of the vine instead -- until it eventually died off. Mystery solved. It wasn't chemical. It was critter.

There's not much I can do about this now. The voles are safely ensconced inside of their new, raised bed home. But the protection will not last. Revenge will come in the form of fall when the vines are removed and the voles will be forced to leave the protection of the raised beds to forage for scarce food supplies.

At that point they will come under the watchful eyes and teeth of the four hunter-killer cats that patrol the backyard. Once the cats begin to figure out where the mole families are located -- well -- it's the beginning of the end. A few will survive. They always do.

Will we plant melons again? Do voles like cantaloupe? This is -- by far -- the most awesome year of watermelon and cantaloupe production that I have ever experienced. Never before have Venus or I grown melons this large or this tasty. And the season still isn't quite over. The voles can't split open the melons like they can with the cantaloupe. They can try -- but the rind is just too tough for them.

Moon & Stars is an heirloom variety melon that grows well in just about any set of conditions and will serve you well in your Northern California backyard. Seeds are available from just about any mail-order supplier -- and if you're lucky -- you just might be able to snag a pack from your nearest Home Depot, Lowes or any other big box store. You can also find them at various nurseries such as Capital Nursery and Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply in Nevada City.

As for us? We're already set for next year. The monster melon pictured above produced a bumper crop of large seeds.

4 comments:

Fred Hoffman said...

That's one big melon you have there! And that green thing you're holding is big, too. Ha!
Bill, let me know what you plan to name next year's watermelon after you harvest it. Chances are, it'll be a cross of the Tom Watson and the Moon & Stars. Blame your bees.

Bill Bird said...

Fred,

Why are you always raining on my parade? Spreading manure on my manure? Just when I think I've done something fantastically right....

Oh well. I guess I'll be ordering new Moon & Stars seed -- along with new Tom Watson seed. Interestingly enough -- the moons never did appear on the melons. I've come to learn, on some varieties, they just don't.

The Vintage Vignette said...

What a bummer about the cantaloupes, Bill! I had a similar experience a few years back but it was Japanese Beetles that had done the damage. They burrowed into just about every melon in the patch. I think we harvested maybe 3or 4 from the entire vine. I have heard that if you place a piece of small gauge chicken wire or screening under each melon and line it with a piece of cheesecloth that it will stop not only pests but bottom rot as well. I know that we have to share with nature but c'mon give us a break! :)

Brown Thumb Mama said...

Holy smokes, that is a monster melon! We picked up some Moon & Stars seeds after reading your last article. We'll see how they do for us next year.

By the way, my 4-year-old loves the Farm Fresh Onions song. "Mama, read the garden website with the onion song!" =)