[gardeners] Icky-Sticky-Funny-Runny Compost

Tom Clothier (gardeners@globalgarden.com)
Wed, 10 Dec 1997 10:11:49 -0600

No Lillian, I don't make it or sell it.  But I do write it, as anyone knows who has seen my

This seems like a good day (snowing heavily outside) to describe three of the plants that I
grew in the
vegetable garden this summer. Seeds are available for trade.

Solanum integrifolium, aka 'ruffled tomato' or 'tomato egg plant' looks exactly like S.
melongena 'eggplant' as it grows.  Leaf shape, stems, etc. are identical.  The flower is white
instead of purple, and not quite as large in overall diameter.  The fruit starts out a rich
bright green, about as large as a goose egg, but then turns a brilliant orange red color that
is most attractive.  I think the fruit is edible, but I didn't find anything in it that I
wanted to eat.  It's worth growing for its ornamental value, is not fussy, and relatively care
free to grow.  The fruit is comfortable to hold or play catch with, and I suspect that a pair
of them would make a remarkably realistic addition to certain public statuary.  Photo is at:

Momordica charantia, aka 'balsam pear' or 'bitter melon' is a well behaved vine that climbs
with tendrils.  It is not as vigorous as Ipomoea or Dolichos, though it did grow to 15 ft. high
here in Chicago.  The fruit is light green, covered with lumpy-bumps, 5 to 7 inches long, and
must be picked before the blossom end begins to change color.  When overripe, it turns orange
throughout, except for the seeds.  The seeds are shaped like heraldic shields and are encased
in a dark red slimy jelly. The fruit opens of its own accord
to reveal the red globs contrasting with the orange flesh.  It is worth seeing but not much
more.  Yes, the fruit can be made edible by picking green, removing seeds, blanching, salting,
rinsing, blanching, salting, rinsing, pureeing, etc. until all of the vitamins and minerals
have been thoroughly disposed of.  While edible, it is only the illusion of food.  This is a
first class weight control substance which would benefit many Americans.  I took 8 or 9 fresh
fruits to the local Chinese restaurant.  I handed them to the dining room hostess, and said
"flee, no mony".  She said, "wait here".  A few minutes later, she returned with a sack of
takeout food that provided two meals.  I protested, she insisted.  Wait until next year, I
thought, see if it works again with something different.

Cucumis metuliferus, aka 'horned melon' or 'kiwano' is not your typical cucumber.  The vines
grow faster than Kudzu, and it is clear to me that they could even span large bodies of water. 
Photo of plant and fruit available - same URL as above.  The have a long growing season before
producing small yellow flowers; I had to hack away at them every day to keep them in bounds. 
As you walk by them, they throw little fiberglass hairs at you which stick in your skin for
several days.  I found that a 3 x 6 ft shield of 1/4 inch plywood between the plant and the
garden path solved the problem of daily access to the rest of the garden.  I never should have
put it so near the gate. The fruit is so carefully hidden, that you cannot watch it develop. 
At harvest time, I put on full rain gear with balaclava and sou'wester.  But, I couldn't pick
up the fruit.  The horns each carry a razor sharp spine and are positioned so that there is no
space for thumb and forefinger without bloodletting.  Besides, the fruit while only 6 to 8
inches long is so heavy that you could not hold it with fingers alone anyway.  After re-arming
myself with leather work gloves inside of welding gloves, I gathered about 30 of those alien
football spaceships.  I cut one in half with a machete, looking for something to eat.  What I
found was a lot of seeds and a lot of juice.  Allowed to ripen to a nice golden color, I
understand that the juice is a pleasant combination of watermelon, papaya, and guano flavors. 
Unfortunately, you have to take your harvest to the automobile junkyard compressor to extract
the juice.

I always thought that "third-world" was an economic expression, but now I think of it as the
set of places where "edible" is not part of the vocabulary.

zone 5a, NE Illinois, -21F Min

p.s.  with thanks to Margaret L. for her services as a reference librarian.