This spring I was grumbling more than ever about the less-than-ideal gardening conditions I work in. Here, close to the San Francisco Bay, it never gets hot enough for this lady born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where most of the fruits and vegetables all of you eat are grown, where tomatoes and melons and peppers and eggplant all thrive. Rather, we have fog many mornings in the summer, and a few hours after that burns off the cool afternoon breeze comes through, followed by the fog again. I wear flannel nightgowns all summer.
Our back yard doesn’t have a lot of space, and half of it is shaded by our trees and the neighbors’, which get bigger every year. My bean and zucchini crops shrink annually. But in spite of my discouragement, I planted again in April. I have had nice lemon cucumbers in the past, so I planted some again in the usual place. Well, not quite usual. Whereas in the past the vines could crawl across the concrete patio, now they would have a big sandy square where my husband had jack-hammered out the old cracked pavement with plans to replace it eventually.
Before my cukes poked up out of the ground where I had poked the seeds in, big round leaves sprouted up in a few places in the sandy square. They were not the true leaves yet, but I could recognize them for cucumbers—oh, goody, I thought, some volunteers! And I carefully sculpted some bowls around my “hills” so I could water them efficiently. You know, it doesn’t normally rain in most of California in the summer so we have to irrigate everything.
The expected cucumbers came up, too, though not so many. I was glad for the “drop-ins” and was happy to see the space filling with healthy green foliage and vines running off in every direction. Along about July I walked by my sprawling cuke bed and saw…..what was that?…a watermelon!
I could not have been more stunned; to think that I had not recognized their distinctive leaves, so different from the cucumbers growing close by. But there is the power of a foregone conclusion: I had never really looked at those leaves. I simply knew they were cucumbers. But when I thought back, I remembered that the previous year we had enjoyed watermelon on the Fourth of July with friends, and the many children had sat on the edge of the deck spitting seeds into the sand.
So now what was I to do? There was no real likelihood that watermelons could get sweet here in the Land of Fog and Shade. I have grown melons before in another place. I know they need months and months of heat, Real Heat. But I had been nurturing these plants for months, and they were so healthy and green…and our water use isn’t metered! It was not possible to turn my back on these babies, so I kept watering them, and sheepishly telling visitors about my confusion and enlightenment, as we gazed at the multiplying fruits, some of which grew large.
August was cool. My children asked me many times, “When are we going to pick our watermelons?” and I told them I would wait as long as possible, until the season of possible heat waves had surely passed…just in case. But I didn’t wait that long. I thought I would try one per week, and I started on Labor Day, the First of September. We picked a big melon, and weighed it: 25 pounds. We hacked it open and it was pink inside. I tasted a slice. It was juicy, it was SWEET. A miracle, but true. Better than what we have often bought at the store. Our neighbor heard us exclaiming and peeked over the fence, so we gave her one. We picked a third (32 pounds) to share with our married children, and found out today that it is sweet, too.
Now the children are saving seeds and hoping that Papa will not replace that concrete just yet. And I am smiling to myself at God’s sneaky kindness, giving me in the midst of my grumblings, of all things—watermelons!