The vertical cantaloupe are coming in now. They sway above me in the morning breeze, fat and slowly ripening: four, seven and 12 feet off the ground.
I see an explanation is in order.
On both sides, my ancestors were farmers. Still, the first time I ever tried my yeoman hand at it was three years ago. Beneath the front porch of my second-floor apartment lay a little strip of dirt, 1 foot 4 inches wide by 13 feet 5 inches long, surrounded by concrete and asphalt on all sides.
I got tired looking at it sitting there, doing nothing. So I returned from Southern States one morning with a tray of baby cantaloupe plants and the only other item crucial to gardening in the South: Miracle-Gro. The only thing I knew about the plants I held was the distance they should be kept apart. The rest I figured I’d learn as I went along.
The first thing I learned was cantaloupe is a vine. (Those readers shaking their heads should probably just stop reading now.) After work one day a snarl of green lines snaked out in all directions from my small north 40. The pavement’s heat would surely cook them.
Intervention one: rope. The vines took readily to the lines I lowered from my porch, and up they scrambled. I watered them first thing every morning, unshaved, unshowered, in my grungiest garden wear. As bees swarmed around the yellow flowers, baby melons developed on the vine at my feet, midsection, and well above my head.
One morning the vines were noticeably sagging with their weight. Damoclesian melons suddenly dangled overhead from thin tendrils stretched to the breaking point. I was about to be bombed. I needed something to hold them up, little slings, or hammocks of some sort.
Intervention two: pantyhose. “Extra Support,” obviously. Nude shade, which would let the most light in, I reasoned. Two lengths from each leg made little cantaloupe condoms and sleeves, and over each melon they went, tied off on the rope just above the place where melon met vine. What looked like little cantaloupe I.V. units swung in the morning light. I’d never seen anything more ridiculous.
As it turned out, they were delicious. Surprise, the pantyhose supported the melons and kept the bugs off, too.
This year’s vines are currently heading for the roof. The first fruits are, well, about the size of a cantaloupe right now. I can hardly wait.