Slice of Life: The gourd eating my Garden

Post by Denton Salle

Every February, I dig up the raised bed and add more composite, either from the garden center or my own nasty smelling pile. You can tell when its time because the days start getting into the fifties. Now here in North Texas, we might see some color then. But mostly it’s still wintery, no trees budding, the bird songs are all our northern winter visitors, and it smells mostly damp. You can almost taste the dampness in the air.

It’s not time to plant, because we almost always get that freeze in early March. When the snow melts off from that, it’s time to run to Dennis’ Farm Supply. The place is in the older part of town, where the remnants of Denton from before the Universities destroyed this place hide. The old buildings smell of dirt, fertilizer, and dogs. It’s always a blast of green and flowers behind brick buildings from the local brickworks.

As you come in, the green scents of herbs and tomato plants hit first, followed by stale coffee and cigarettes. You don’t buy plants here: you buy trays of plants. Supplies come if fifty-pound bags, heavy and likely to stain your shirt. The weight is comfortable and mixed with the smells and colors of the store remind you everything good hasn’t been destroyed by the creeping rot of the colleges.

So I get my trays, my seeds, and few enough onions and leeks to make Dennis tease me. And we plant. Or I plant. Actually, everything except watering and harvesting is my job. And every year, we try something new. This year it’s a fennel bulb, and these Chinese gourd seeds someone gave me. I think they are some kinda of gourd. Not the scrubby bath thing? Those are chinses okra. This is a gourd that was used to hold wine, Turns out that you can eat them when they are little.

What they don’t tell you is how aggressive the vine is. It comes up early and looks like a squash. All the seeds came up, so I pulled them back to one plant. How many wine containers do we need? And then we find out that it also grows about a foot a day.

Yep. A foot a day. We measured it. By the end of the first week, it climbed the trellis and started sending shoots out to other places. We kept cutting it back, and by the middle of April, it covered the trellis top and has set tentacles down to the tomato stakes. It also ran a stem out to the new apple tree and tried to strangle that.

So here I am trying to finish a challenge of a story a week for a year, and since I actually have a career under another name, and I’m mentoring a start-up, I have about 45 minutes when I would stationary bike and write. I’m now spending that time trying to save my yard from this thing.

I cut it back again after carefully unwrapping the apple sapling. However, we missed the stem running over to netting covering the cantaloupes. Our new dog, Beau, is basically a living plushie with none of the hunting instinct a standard poodle should have. Soft, silky, and cuddly, he likes squirrels and last year watched them clean the melons out. So, this year we built a cage over the melon bed.

The gourd snuck a stem over to it, and when we came back from a few days away, had covered one end with its enormous leaves and white flowers. The leaves from this thing are huge; you can imagine a Totoro using one as an umbrella. They have a squashy smell that seems green and a touch unpleasant. The undersides and stems are prickly with little hairs like some squash. The flowers are these great magnificent white things with a light green center.

Sadly, they don’t smell that nice. Not bad, but just not pleasant. The female blossoms are smaller and have a bulge like a cucumber does that turns into something that looks like oversized okra. It starts as a green sausage-like thing, and then as the flower falls off, develops a tip. The gourd are decent tasting, mild like a summer squash, until they get about 10” long. That takes a week. They seem to stop growing about three feet long and twenty inches around.

I now have six of the monsters drying in the garage.

After rescuing the melons, I was a little more careful. We did have to cut it back from the strawberries, as those huge leaves were shading the poor strawberries to death. Then I went out of town on a business trip.

During the four days, I was gone, the gourd plant gave into territory ambitions and invaded the tomatoes, Using the tomato plants as supports, it spread its stems though the bed, attaching its tentacles to everything. After several hours of snipping and pulling, I got it driven back to its bed.

Apparently, it’s like a toddler. I can’t leave the thing alone until we harvest it. At least, the fruits taste better than bitter melon. That was last year’s spectacular failure. Even the pandas wouldn’t eat them.

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