Helen Chesnut: Tiny mouse melons a juicy garden snack

Every gardening year brings new plants to try. As I read through the pages of the new catalogues during the late fall and winter, I look for newly introduced varieties, those that have won awards for excellence, and listings of plants I’ve not grown before.

This year, I grew three plants that turned out to provide fine in-garden summer snacking.

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Mouse melon. Late last summer, some friends and I visited Innisfree Farm and Botanic Garden in the Courtenay area. In their greenhouse, impressive cucumbers hung from vines growing along overhead supports. Nearby, long, slim vines bore tiny mottled fruits that I recognized as cucamelon, also called mouse melon.

Intrigued, I decided to try growing them with the cucumbers, on a tall half-circle of sturdy wire in my garden.

Several of the seed catalogues I use list mouse melon, among either the melons or the cucumbers. Johnny’s Selected Seeds lists it as Mexican Sour Gherkin, with the cucumbers.

I ordered from Salt Spring Seeds. Germination was good and I set the transplants out with the cucumbers in May. The fruits dangling delicately from the vines can aptly be called “cute” — like miniature watermelons.

Cucamelons are about the size of grapes, and are at their most crisp when picked young, at only about 2.5 cm long. I pick several to munch on every time I pass by the planting. They are juicy, and taste like cucumber with a dash of lime. Mouse melons can also be added to stir fries, salads and salsas.

Ruby Crush. Occasionally, a seed company will send me, along with the seeds I’d ordered, a few additional packets of seeds to try. That’s how I acquired seeds for a novel tomato called Ruby Crush, described as the first ever compact, determinate (non-vining) grape tomato that will grow and produce well in a container as well as in the open garden. The seed source was T&T Seeds, a company that never fails to introduce new and unusual varieties each year.

I grew two transplants, one to join three other tomatoes in containers on the patio and one for the vegetable garden. I supported both plants with tomato cages. Both have produced substantial clusters of small, broadly tear-shaped tomatoes that are superbly delicious. I would describe the flavour as a sugary tang.

Another feature I value in Ruby Crush: Not one cracked tomato. Cracking is a fairly common issue with cherry tomatoes grown in pots.

Dropshot. Another plant that has given much pleasure this summer is “Dropshot” Mexican marigold (Tagetes filifolia). I noticed it as a new listing in this year’s William Dam Seeds catalogue, which describes the plants as bushy, with ferny leaves that have a sweet licorice flavour. It is recommended for growing in containers and as bed edging.

As with Ruby Crush, I used some of my transplants in a container, which I placed next to a pathway beside the back lawn. The rest I used to edge a vegetable plot.

When I first pinched off a stem tip to taste, I could hardly believe the intensity of the flavour. Snacking on the plants soon became a habit. Licorice lovers, and probably children, will love it. This herb is useful for flavouring cold drinks, tea, salads and seafood, and is an acceptable substitute for tarragon.

The ferny little bushes are very easy to grow. Both plantings have remained impeccably decorative all summer. I see them also as useful “fillers” in mixed container plantings.

PLANT SALE

The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is holding its usual fall plant sale, with formats adjusted to current conditions. First, there will be a 25 per cent price cut on all plants beginning Monday, Sept. 21. On that day, online orders can be sent in to hcp.ca starting at 9 a.m. There will be a plant availability list on the site, and a plant sale link will give steps to follow for ordering. You will receive a call back with a scheduled time for pickup.

Phone orders can be made to 250-479-6162 starting at 10 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 21. In-person shopping starts on Thursday, Sept. 24, during regular garden hours (Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Shoppers are asked to wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible.

hchesnut@bcsupernet.com

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