Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mouse Melon

Whats this? A watermelon the size of a grape? A giant holding a full size watermelon? A delicious addition to your edible backyard? I will go with the latter.

Do you want a conversation starter for next years garden? Well I recommend growing this amazing little vegetable / fruit called a Mouse Melon (Melothria scabra). In Mexico it is called "sandia ratón" literally "mouse watermelon". It is also known as Mexican sour gherkin, cucamelon, Mexican miniature watermelon, and Mexican sour cucumber. This annual vine produces hundreds of little fruits the size of grapes.

It is native to Mexico and Central America where it is thought to have been in cultivation before western contact. It belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. The fruit tastes like a lemony cucumber, which is interesting because cucumbers are thought to have originated in India. Most of the Curcurbit family species in the Americas are pumpkins, squash and gourds. Watermelon and melons come from Africa if you want to bring most of the Curcurbit family full circle.

I heard about this awesome little plant on a podcast I listen to. We had a seed swap dinner party a while ago and this was one of the plants we got seed for. You can eat them raw in salads or you can pickle them with your favorite pickle recipe. We are going to play around with cooking them and see what happens. There are not a lot of recipes available for these, so hopefully we can find a new way to eat them. Here is a seed source, I highly recommend growing these in your garden next year.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Blunt Mountain Mint

Let me tell you about an amazing plant I've had growing for a couple years. I learned a lot about this plant in my research for this post. So what is it? It is called Blunt Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), also known as Short Toothed Mountain Mint, Clustered Mountain Mint and Big Leaf Mountain Mint. While Mountain Mint is in the Lamiaceae family with other mints like spearmint and peppermint, it is not a true mint. You wouldn't think that if you crushed some and smelled it though. This native hardy perennial deserves a spot in your garden.

Lets break down its Latin / Greek name. Pycnanthemum is Greek for "dense flower", pyknos = dense and anthos = flower. Muticum is Latin for blunt, referring to the flat leaves at the end of the stems. It was given this name by the French Botanist Andre Michaux when he "discovered" the plant in Pennsylvania in 1790. He named it this because of its tiny densely clustered flower heads. Mine is still flowering a bit, you can see the tiny pinkish flowers on the edges of the heads. Every bump you see on the head had a flower on it recently. 

Insects are drawn to this plant in amazing quantities and diversity. Bees absolutely love it, so do butterflies, wasps, moths and flies. Predators like to hang out on it to ambush nectar enamored insects. The dried heads last through the winter and provide habitat for insects. So make sure you leave them up through the winter.

The leaves contain an organic compound called pulegone, the same chemical in pennyroyal that is used as an insect repellant. For all my chemically inclined readers here is a pretty picture.

File:Pulegone Structural Formulae.png

You can pick some leaves and rub them on exposed skin to keep those pesky mosquito's at bay. Some people have a reaction to this so test a small area of skin before you go all out. The toxicology for humans seems to be largely not researched. A study in rats has shown the chemical pulegone to be toxic in large quantities. Personally I chew a leaf every time I walk by it. So far so good. Do your own research if you are worried about toxicity. Here is an article on the toxicity and myths of pennyroyal, which has higher levels of pulegone than Blunt Mountain Mint. At any rate you would have to eat a lot of this plant to get a large dose of pulegone. Just to be safe, I will state; you should not use this plant if you are pregnant. I encourage you to read the article on toxicity and myths above.

Here is an experiment I hope to perform soon. I will take three crushed leaves of blunt mountain mint and drop them in a glass cylinder filled with frozen water molecules (ice). To this I will add one part ethanol (sky vodka should do the trick) to two parts quinine laced carbonated water (Canada dry will work nicely) and stir. This experiment may need to be repeated several times before I can give any conclusive data.

How would you like to find a use for those old unmatched socks hanging around? Take said sock, put some leaves and flower heads in it and tie the end off. Throw this is your dryer for a fresh minty scent. You can also take some leaves and flower heads and put them in a cheesecloth bag. Tie off the cheesecloth and let this soak in a hot bath. You can use the plant for making potpourri or just place some leaves in your dresser drawers to keep insects away and freshen them up.

I highly recommend growing this plant if you want to bring in pollinators, especially if you keep bees on your property.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Flowers From Around The Garden

I was walking around the garden yesterday and was surprised by the amount of flowers still in bloom. Having a large variety of plants flowering in your garden is beneficial in many ways. First is beauty, I will step out of my power tool infested man-cave and say, flowers make me happy, plain and simple. Secondly, flowers of different colors, shapes, and sizes bring all kinds of beneficial insects to your garden. Some of these insects are predators that help control insect pests, and some are pollinators that will help pollinate your food crops while they are in the area. Last but not least, many flowers have medicinal properties or are edible, or both. Here are some pics I took yesterday.

This is one of our favorite flowers in the garden. Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is native to Mexico. The flowers attract birds and butterflies, and bees love them.

We bought a perennial flower seed mix that had dozens of different flowers in it. I am not sure what this is but it is a beautiful flower.

Same thing here, some kind of perennial flower. In the spring I plan on filling the beds along the back of the property with this mix.

Marigolds are very beneficial. They are said to deter some insect pests and bring in beneficial insects. This is a french marigold (Tagetes patula), it is not edible, just beneficial. Some people confuse the inedible french marigold with the edible, sort of look a like, Calendula (Calendula officinalis).

This is Borage (Borago officinalis), which is very edible and delicious. The flowers continuously bloom all through the season. Bees love these flowers and they make a nice addition to a salad.


The first Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are blooming. I took this picture with the camera extended as high as I could above my head and the flower was still a few feet away. Right now these plants are around 10-12 feet tall. I did a detailed post on Jerusalem Artichokes here if you are interested.

Not sure what this plant is. I was about to cut them all down when I noticed it was about to bloom. I am going to leave one and take the rest out. It has a very woody stalk that leads me to believe it might be a perennial. We will see if it comes back in the spring.

This is a perennial I bought in a big box store clearance sale. Not sure what it is, but it comes back every year and the bees like it.

Same here, this is a perennial from a clearance sale. I have a hard time passing up .50 cent flowering perennials.

My addiction strikes again. I often think about getting a part time job at my local big box store just so I can get first dibs on the clearance plants!

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a very valuable plant in the garden. It is a good companion plant, a medicinal and edible. It attracts predatory wasps, ladybugs and hover flies; all very beneficial to have around. It is said to improve the health of sick plants it is near to. Yarrow has been used for centuries as a pain reliever, an astringent, an anti-inflammatory,  a diaphoretic and it was used in ancient times to stanch blood flow in wounds. In those days it was called herbal militaris.

Friday, September 6, 2013

You look away for one minute...

Dara and I drove out to Rhode Island over the Labor day weekend. My family gets together and has a traditional clambake each year. This year we did not have a bake, but we still got together for a grill out. We had a lot of fun seeing the family and catching up with everyone. Next year I will document the bake and do a blog post about it. The whole process is fascinating and I am glad it is a tradition in my family. 

These are not cucumbers. Before we left for Rhode Island I checked our zucchini and saw a few tiny zucchinis with the flowers still on them. It is amazing how fast these guys can grow. That is a normal size spoon. We are making a Paleo zucchini lasagna with them. When they get this big we have also shredded them to make a Paleo meatloaf. You could make zucchini bread as well, or something I used to do as a kid, make a sail boat out of them.