Friday, August 12, 2022

Processing Cucamelon Seed

After finding out that one of my children was intolerant to gluten and that his focus and behavior improved when he ate gluten-free, our family went about making gluten-free bread. While the rest of the family could make the bread, the task often fell to me to accomplish. Once I listened to enough people and read enough, I finally figured out how to make a really good loaf of gluten-free bread from the recipe that we had the ingredients to make. A phrase I would commonly use to describe how essential it was to follow the recipe procedures precisely was, “There is a madness to the method”.

This “madness to the method” is not only a good mantra for making bread, but for processing cucamelon (Melothria scabra) seed – especially processing a lot of it. After months of caring for the fruit and many hours of working to process the seed, I can emphatically declare that there is a “madness to the method”. So to break down the steps of processing cucamelon seed, lets start with the steps required to hand-process a small batch, then we will scale those steps up to hand-processing a large batch.


















Small batch Cucamelon (Melothria scabra) processing: You will first need the following items: Gloves, a mason jar (big enough to hold fruit pulp), a cutting board, a knife, a colander to rinse the seeds in (with holes smaller than the seeds) and something to dry the seeds on. Gather all the little cucamelons you can from the plants and the ground around the plants. If you can, wait until the skin of the fruit is no longer shiny. After the fruit has filled out and the shine of the skin becomes dull, pick the fruit from off the vines or gather fallen fruit from off the ground. Rinse all of the fruit off and allow it to dry in a cool or moderately cool location. Once the fruit begins to become soft or wrinkled, separate the older soft and wrinkled fruit from the less mature fruit. Put on the gloves and using a knife on a cutting board, cut each fruit in half. Squeeze the contents of the inside of each half section of fruit into a clean mason jar, discarding the skin in the compost. At this point, you may want to double-check the inside of each half fruit to see if you are leaving any seeds behind in the fruit. If the gloves become torn or incur cuts, replace them. The acid from cucamelons does serious damage on hands (especially the cuticles) within as little as 15 minutes. Once the jar is 2/3 full, clean off the rim and tighten the lid just enough so air can pass by to release pressure. The pulp will take 1-2 weeks to ferment. During the fermentation process the pulp will turn from a pea green color to a darker shade. This color change, as well as the presence of large pockets of air or bubbles in the pulp will signify fermentation is occurring. To determine if fermentation is complete, tighten the lid of the jar, shade it vigorously, then slowly let the air out. When the pulp in the jar becomes loose and no longer produces pockets of gas in the pulp mass, the batch is done fermenting. Dump the pulp, a little at a time, into a colander and rinse out the pulp from one side of the colander to the other until the seeds become clean. Then put seeds on a paper plate or other clean surface to dry. Ensure that the seeds are properly dry, then blow out the excess bad seed from the batch, leaving only good clean seed. If needed, you can utilize a box fan for this purpose. Once the nonviable seed has been removed from the batch, pack into an airtight container and store in a cool dry location. 

Large batch Cucamelon (Melothria scabra) processing: Large, storing and sorting, put the fruit into a 5-gallon bucket to ferment and check every couple days. Once a large portion of fruit begins to decay, use an electric whisk to beat the fruit. This can be done by using a immersion blender or, if you would prefer to save your energy, a large electric mixer like a Kitchen Aid™. If you took the pulp out of the 5-gallon bucket, put it back in and check every 2-3 days until the pulp begins to turn from a light green to a off-colored dark green. This will signal the end of the fermentation process. You may want to try using a whisk attachment again, just to make sure that the pulp has broken down enough. Then, put a small portion of the seeds in a fine colander and press the liquid out of them. Knead the pulp mass like dough again and again until most of the liquid is out. Rinse the pulp and knead again. Keep doing this until most of the seeds can be rinsed out. If there is any remaining pulp, you can add it to another batch and keep going. You can also put the pulp in the electric mixer to try to break it down even more. The general idea is to break down the pulp as much as possible without breaking down the seed. Once the seed is free of pulp, dry it as soon as possible. The pulp has some kind of compound that keeps the seed from germinating and clean seeds will quickly germinate if left in a moist area. If the seed has been mostly cleaned, but separating the last remaining pulp from the seed is problematic, you can use cold water in a bowl to rinse out the pulp, while keeping the good seed in the bowl. This only works if the seed coat is completely removed though, because any seed coat still clinging to the seed will make it more buoyant and pull the seed into the current of any water that is poured out.

There you go. Cucamelon seed. You can probably harvest 1 pound for every 75-100 pounds of fruit. And it probably takes over 5 hours to process an ounce of seed. Having harvested 2 pounds of seed, my wife made me promise not to grow another cucamelon out to seed the next year. Given the amount of work required, unless there was a dire imperative to do so, I will probably never process that many cucamelons ever again, but when I do, the following video will likely help.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Why you should be careful when growing Sweet Potatoes in Heavy Clay

So the title pretty much gives away the whole story of my feelings about growing sweet potatoes in heavy clay. It is miserable. It is miserable if the clay is moist and muddy and it is miserable if the clay is dry and as hard as a brick. It is miserable not knowing what you are trying to cut through to find the sweet potatoes and it is miserable accidentally hitting the soaker hose when you are just trying to get out a tuber.


The problem with trying to grow sweet potatoes in heavy clay is that they stick. The tubers stick to the mud or the hard clumps of dirt and can be nearly impossible to distinguish or separate from the material they are growing in. While there are some people who speak out against amending clay with sand, I am very much a proponent of the idea. One very nice thing about amending clay with sand is that sand does not biodegrade the same way that organic material will – so despite its ability to loosen the soil, sand remains around for a while. The same can likely be said about clay being added to sand - except clay definitely has a higher available nutrient content as well as a literal “sticking power”.
























 In the end, I did manage a crop of tubers from the work garden over the pandemic - but they set deeper in the ground along the cracks and seams, so that the increased effort required to extract them damaged the structure of the soil I was moving to find them.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Growing out the Carosello Leccese in the Work Garden

When I planned to grow out the Carosello Leccese in my work garden, I had no idea that I would be having to maneuver my growing around a pandemic. My though was that I will just try growing this variety and see how I do. It was that simple. If only it could remain so easy.




















Pandemic notwithstanding, I planted my little cucumbers, did my best to water and care for them, then let nature do its thing. The summer of 2020, nature was not very nice. At least in that specific plot I was growing in. There did seem to be something a little wrong with the soil. It could have definitely been deficient of nutrients, but I’m not exactly sure what else was going on. In any case, the majority of the Light Carosello Leccese did not make it to maturity. The small number that did, ended up producing enough seed for me to share with others. It was a good thing too, because I was starting to run low on seed of that variety.






















 This is not to say that my intention for growing cucumbers at my work garden was for seed. The primary intention of me growing in my work garden is to produce fruit to share with colleagues. If I happen to produce seed in the process, than that is definitely an added bonus.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Work Garden Fava Beans

Here are some pictures of fava beans that I grew in my work garden a while ago. The variety is one of the shortest that I could find and is called the “Robin Hood” fava bean.



While there are cultures in the world that really enjoy eating fava beans, we primarily utilize them as a cover crop. I really don’t have much against consuming fava beans, but the taste and texture are not my favorite.

To top it off, the last time we had fava beans as a family – my wife was sick in bed thereafter. It seems that she may have had a mild case of favism. There is a chemical in fava beans that can be toxic to some groups of people, so before becoming gluttonous with any large crop of fava beans, it may be wise to try a couple out to see if you have a reaction.

The crop of fava beans I had was good, but near the end, they were attacked pretty hard by aphids. Whether this particular variety of fava is more susceptible to aphids or whether all fava beans are prone to aphid infestations, I really cannot say. My approach to dealing with pest pressure would probably be considered an “integrated pest management” approach. I cut the tops off the most infested plants and put them away from the other plants (in a plastic trash bag) but it was only a matter of time before the aphids spread across most of the plants 


Despite the onset of beneficial insects, the aphid population had come to a point where I made the decision to cut most of the plants down at the base. I kept a few of the healthiest plants as a place for me to safely leave all of the eggs, larvae and adult beneficial insects I found as I cleared the bed.




As a cover crop, fava beans tend to bank as much nitrogen into the soil as any other cover crop I know of. Not do the plants produce plenty of nitrogen below ground but they produce plenty of foliage above the soil which helps to smother any potential weeds that may arise. I highly encourage those who have never tried growing a cover crop, to at least try a shorter fava variety, like Robin Hood. It is well worth the minimal time and energy required to reinvigorate the soil for the next season.