The Genetic Diversity of Watermelons

Navaho Watermelon

Damn those supermarket watermelons! Every one I’ve bought this summer has been mealy, old and tasteless. Why? Yet again, the folks who sell us our food have decided to grow only a handful of the over 1,200 known varieties of watermelons.

The one pictured above is a Navaho watermelon I picked up at the National Heirloom Exposition. Note the vibrant (and tasty) red seeds. Navaho watermelons are sometimes called “winter melons” since they can be stored for a few months.

Another watermelon I tasted at the Exposition was a yellow fleshed variety called Orangeglo. It was probably the sweetest and tastiest watermelon I’ve ever eaten.

The problem with supermarket watermelons is not due to the seedless vs. seeded issue. Seedless watermelons are created with a complex genetic process you can read about here. What’s more relevant to taste is how early watermelons are picked, how long they’ve been sitting around and the limited varieties commercial growers plant.

The Heirloom Exposition eloquently demonstrated the benefits of genetic diversity with its watermelon display and tasting. And that diversity is something we can all address in our gardens, if we have one, by planting unusual seeds. You can bet I’m going to try growing watermelons in next summer’s straw bale garden.

What kinds of watermelons have you grown and what’s your favorite?

Saturday Linkages: A Mega-Reference for Homesteaders

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CD3WD: A Mega-Reference for Homesteaders

CD3WD: A Mega-Reference for Homesteaders http://brinkoffreedom.net/homesteading/cd3wd-mega-reference-homesteaders/?utm_source=feedly …

BreadStorm http://www.farine-mc.com/2013/09/breadstorm.html …

Get Fit Like a Wild Man: A Primer on MovNat http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/TheArtOfManliness/~3/6JaxlN5A7Kc/story01.htm …

Tooth Fairy goes pneumatic http://hackaday.com/2013/09/13/tooth-fairy-goes-pneumatic/ …

Making Nikola Tesla a Saint Makes Us All Dumber http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/making-nikola-tesla-a-saint-makes-us-all-dumber-1308034624 …

Let’s really make backyard hens legal in Pasadena CA! http://www.change.org/petitions/let-s-really-make-backyard-hens-legal-in-pasadena-ca?share_id=QwPdcnLXHr&utm_campaign=twitter_link_action_box&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition …

Is it better to bike or run? http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/29/ask-well-is-it-better-to-bike-or-run/ …

How Chris McCandless Really Died http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/09/how-chris-mccandless-died.html?mbid=social_retweet …

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

Shoemaking Advice?

oldest known leather shoe

If only my shoes will turn out this well. The oldest surviving leather shoe: 5,500 year-old shoe found in a cave in Armenia. Photo by Gregory Areshian. Via National Geographic

My post about homemade mattresses turned out to be one of the most popular ever on this site. (By the way, I’m still putting up with our old mattress, but one day I will be letting you know what I’ve decided to do about the new mattress) Meanwhile, I’m wondering if this one will be half as popular. Are people as dissatisfied with their shoes as they are with their mattresses? Probably not. I know I am–but this is mostly my own fault. I’ve spent too much time barefoot and my feet don’t seem to fit store bought shoes anymore.

Don’t get excited, shoe questioners: I’ve got nothing for you. I’m asking for help. Have any of you made your own shoes? I’m looking for good resources on shoe making: books, videos, etc.  I’d also love to hear stories of successes or failures or lessons learned.

I’d like to make leather, soft-soled shoes as first project perhaps moccasins, perhaps something more structured.

I have two books right now. One is Shoes for Free People, by David & Inger Runk, published in 1976 in Santa Cruz. As you might expect, it is highly groovy. And as you also might expect, the text is hand lettered and the illustrations are crude line drawings.

(Children, this was the way of things in the 70’s.  In defiance of Gutenberg’s advances, books were hand lettered, and for some equally puzzling reason every kitchen seemed to have a decorative plaque made of lacquered bread dough. The subject matter was usually a mushroom, or a cluster of mushrooms. Sometimes an owl. More rarely a Holly Hobby-type figure. Here endeth the lesson.)

Free People actually seems like a fine book. It basically steps you through making one basic type of shoe that you can modify in different ways. Erik wailed about the horrible hippie-ness of it all when I showed him the illustrations of what I might make, but he wears cheap Chinese martial art shoes, so I don’t think he has moral or aesthetic high ground here.

The other book is The Make it Yourself Shoe Book by Christine Lewis Clark. Not so surprisingly, this one was published in the 1977. The 70’s seems to be the last time anyone tried to make their own shoes–outside of Portland, that is.

Please tell me this is not true.

Tips on growing great garlic

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This week I’m at the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. Kelly is at home, tending to our herd of milk cats. Yesterday I learned a lot about garlic.

Garlic is one of those crops well worth growing if you’ve got the space. Why? unless you know an heirloom garlic farmer, the stuff you buy at the supermarket is one of just three bland varieties. According to garlic expert Jeffrey Nekola, who spoke yesterday, garlic has twelve times more information in its DNA than we humans do. Meaning, that garlic is a plant capable of vast biodiversity.

Cultural needs

When I asked a garlic farmer I met yesterday how to grow garlic he said, “It’s like giving a credit card to your wife . . . you’ve got to give her all she wants.” When I asked him to clarify, he told me that garlic requires as much compost, nutrients and water as you can spare. Nekola said he doesn’t even plant garlic unless he’s prepped his beds for at least two to three years and noted that one of the best heads of garlic he ever grew took root accidentally in a compost pile.

Pull the garlic cloves apart (leave the skins on) and plant them in the ground with the pointy end up. Nekola suggests planting them with a tablespoon of soybean meal (found at feed stores as animal feed). Nekola also recommended mulch. Let the garlic sprout first, but then pack down at least an inch of straw. Lay your drip tubing under the straw.

When to plant varies by location but it’s usually sometime in the fall. For us in Los Angeles the farmer I spoke to suggested October 1 as a planting date, but noted that he “usually screws up” and doesn’t get the garlic in until October 9. No doubt I will screw up even worse and not get the garlic in until November 1.

Thereafter, it’s a waiting game. Garlic takes a good six months to mature. You harvest most types of garlic when the stalk is nearly brown. And don’t forget to pick off the flowers if they appear. The flowers pull energy from the plant that is better spent making big cloves. The flowers are also edible: some farmers are actually making more money selling the flowers as culinary exotics.

Growing garlic in hot climates

I’ve had mixed success growing garlic in Los Angeles. It turns out I was growing the wrong varieties. Most garlics appreciate cold weather, including some time spent under a blanket of snow. For hot climates you need to grow Creole garlics that, come from the Iberian peninsula. Pictured above are some of the Creole garlics on display at the Expo.

One quirk with Creole garlics is that the cloves don’t develop until the last second. Nekola cautioned about picking them too soon. You have to really wait until the stalks are almost totally dead. And Creole varieties take a very long and sunny growing season.

For more information on garlic varieties, Nekola maintains an encyclopedic garlic website at:  http://sev.lternet.edu/~jnekola/Heirloom/garlicFAQ.htm