I HAVE just acquired some seeds from the Diggers Club to sow into my food garden. Rockmelon and beans are warm season favourites and I prefer to grow heirloom varieties, as their vigour and hardiness is usually superior to a lot of modern vegetables.
The rockmelon Petit Gris De Rennes (Cucumis melo) is a very old heirloom variety and had its origins in Rennes, France, where it was reputedly grown in the vegetable garden of the town bishop around 400 years ago. This particular type of cantaloupe is ideally suited for small backyard gardens and in pots for patios and balconies as it only grows to a height of 40 centimetres and around one metre in diameter. It could easily be regarded as a "bush" type of rockmelon, due to its compact growth habit. The fruit matures in 14 weeks and it differs a little from other cantaloupe that normally have netted skin as the fruit of this Old World type has smooth blue/grey skin with radiating pale stripes and the flesh is a distinct orange colour.
The other heirloom seeds ready to sow are Dragon's Tongue beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). This variety of bush bean originated in the Netherlands and can also be grown in tubs and pots if space is limited.
The maturing pods provide a striking feature with splashes of purple on a mainly yellow/cream background.
They are popular with chefs for this visual appeal.
The plant will grow to a height of 70 centimetres and about 20 centimetres wide, so planting at spacings of 15 centimetres will assist in supporting bordering plants and protect in windy conditions.
The pods will grow to a length of 300 millimetres if you want them for the seeds but picking when they are about 200 millimetres will ensure that they are not tough and stringy and will promote further flowering as well.
As with most beans, they can be eaten fresh or cooked but the colourful pattern on the skin fades away the longer it is cooked.
Heirloom seeds can be interesting to grow and they can provide us with some unusual vegetables which are not commonly available today.
Because the seeds are from genetically pure varieties, they need to be grown and have their seeds saved to ensure that their diverse background is continued.
Try to buy heirloom seeds the next time you want to grow some delicious home-grown food.
Mark Garnham is a Hunter Valley horticulturalist.
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