Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rich Sweetness 132: One tough cookie

You may be aware that Oklahoma is suffering a scorchingly dry summer, record-breaking in it's magnitude, miserable for the animals, humans and plants living through it. We've had temperatures consistently above 100 degrees - sometimes soaring up to 108 and 109 - for the past six weeks, with only two short bursts of rain. Farms and gardens across Oklahoma, along with much of the American South, are yielding perhaps 20 - 40% of their normal crops. Even my heat-loving okra are wilting, the sweet potato vines scorching. Nothing wants to grow.


My Rich Sweetness 132 melons, which apparently thrive on misery. Looking for a small melon, I found this heirloom variety from the former Soviet Union in the amazing Baker Creek Rare Seeds catalog last year. Intrigued by the funky striped appearance and the promising description of "very productive all season long," I planted four hills around a home-made watering olla in one of my crop circles in the six feet between my neighbor's driveway and my own, not sure what to expect but hoping for something tough, as that site gets one hundred percent sun, all day long, and is surrounded by concrete.

I thought I might have a winner when the vines began to explode out of the circle, despite the already-stifling drought. Like the rest of my garden, the crop circles are fed in spring with compost and then covered with newspapers and straw mulch after transplants are placed and seeds have sprouted. Still, despite the compost, mulch, and olla, I've had to water the garden every day, as we are getting no natural precipitation and are enduring 100+ daily temperatures. (Perhaps next year I'll try soaker hoses.) In late June, I began to see what appeared to be tiny watermelons dotting the vines, soon turning to a striped red and gold, like miniature Tiggers sitting patiently on the mulch.

When I could smell their rich melon aroma, I began to harvest them. Since then, the Rich Sweetness 132's have just kept coming. The flesh is white, with a milder taste than regular cantaloupe and less sweetness than a watermelon. Reactions vary - some people are bored by the mild flavor, some rave about the creamy taste and heady fragrance.

My favorite attribute (aside from the fact that the fruit are actually producing, and that they are unusually cool-looking) is the small size of the melons. Their single serving snack size means that I don't have to have a crowd at my house to eat one, nor do I have to stuff myself with cantaloupe and then wrap the rest up in plastic and put it in the fridge, consuming precious shelf space. Instead, I can easily eat one in a sitting, much like an apple or a peach.

After the performance of this melon this summer, I'm encouraging all my friends to save the seeds from the heirloom RS132s that I've been giving them. They are not the most flavorful melons in the whole wide world (to my taste - as I mentioned, some people love them), but I have a feeling we are going to need plants that can thrive in desert-like conditions. Rephrase: we ALREADY need food plants that thrive in desert-like conditions.

In fact, we've harvested so many of these cheerful little melons that I decided to haul a small load to my favorite local food seller, Matt Burch of the Urban Agrarian. I planned to give them to him for free as a fun attention-attracting eye-catcher for his market booth, but he insisted on trading me a dozen eggs and five medium sized tomatoes for fourteen melons, which we priced at $1 each.

I hope his customers love them; he had sold four already in the quarter hour I spent checking out his wares, which included eggs, a variety of meats, Earth Elements baked goods and jams, and watermelon, okra, garlic, tomatoes, zukes and cukes. Matt parks his Veggie Van out at Cheever's every Sunday, disregarding the ridiculous weather to deliver fresh food to the good people of Oklahoma City. Thanks Matt!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dilithium Crystals 'most likely' to power next generation

June 18, 2012 -- CAMBRIDGE, MASS --

In a Gallup poll released today, Americans chose dilithium crystals as the "most likely" fuel to run future cars and power plants, with 84% of Americans choosing the crystals over other options including nuclear, hydrogen, corn ethanol, shale gas, and photovoltaic solar panels. Respondents indicated that dilithium crystals are popular for providing quiet, clean energy, with a proven track record of seven-hundred twenty-six episodes in four different Star Trek television series.

Professor Stephen Palmer, of MIT, claims that dilithium crystals have "literally unlimited potential" for the future of energy, reporting, "Based on my research, which includes careful observation of over ten thousand hours of Deep Space Nine and Voyager re-runs, dilithium crystals have a virtually infinite capacity for power generation."

Palmer explains, "The crystals provide power for starship warp drives by channeling electro-plasma released by the mutual annihilation from extremely high temperatures and electro-magnetic radiation. And since Spock and Scotty solved the problem of gradual decrystalization during their time travel mission to the twenty-third century, all we have to do is harness this energy, and BAM! - we're set for the next five thousand years."

Results from the poll led several U.S. Senators to call for increased funding of NASA, which has languished in recent years due to budget cuts. Anthony Baden (R-NY), said, "According to several popular television shows, dilithium crystals are the fuel of tomorrow. Our only problem seems to be obtaining the crystals from the planet Rura Penthe in the Klingon Empire. If we can get hold of a warp drive, maybe from the Chinese, we can pop these dilithium puppies in our nuclear plants by the next election cycle."

Although some skeptics called the crystals "unproven technology," a majority of respondents identified environmentalists, big government, and big oil as the top culprits preventing the United States from switching to this low-carbon fuel. Sarah Train, a student in Massachusetts, said, "Permanently free power? Seems like a good idea to me. So I'm not really sure why we're not using the crystals yet, but I'm pretty confident it involves treehuggers or bureaucracy. Maybe both."

Transition US, a grass-roots sustainability group, called dilithium crystals "science fiction," instead suggesting that communities re-localize in the face of the energy and financial crises that have plagued the U.S. since 2007. Raven Baker, spokesperson for TUS, says, "Don't wait for the government or corporations to deliver a miracle at some undetermined time in the future. Grow some food. Build low-tech, distributed energy solutions. Conserve. Reorganize cities so travel is less necessary."

Joe Burns, an engineer in Atlanta, scoffed at these recommendations. "Community - ha! Somebody explain how I can fill up my SUV's 40-gallon fuel tank with community. And growing a garden, c'mon. Who do they think I am, an immigrant?"

"I need a realistic answer to my problems, and dilithium crystals seem to fit the bill. So if I have to sit on my butt while the government spends half a trillion dollars and thirty years chasing a pipe dream until every other option has evaporated ... well, I've gotten pretty good at that."