While anybody with so much as a green fingernail will tell you there are great conditions here for those much-loved root vegetables — carrot, turnip, beet, etc. — the province’s ability to thrust up southern fruits has rarely been tested. Why would it be on a clip of rock shouldering winds from the North Atlantic?
Well Chris Oram of Mark’s Market in Wooddale (central Newfoundland) boldly planted what nobody — or at least few — have planted before in Newfoundland soil. And the fruits of toil have turned out as delicious as they are surprising.
“We had a few seeds there for cantaloupe and watermelon two years ago so I figured I’d try them,” Oram says.
The family farm has a large pumpkin patch and he was putting in his seeds for those at the same time. Last year he had enough success with the cantaloupe that this year he grew about 400.
“They’re sweet as can be,” he says.
They’re slightly smaller than what you normally find, he adds, but probably better tasting and even more nutritious since they’re harvested and sold ripe and fresh. Most fruit that has to travel great distances is picked before it’s ripe and allowed to ripen on the trip. Not so with Oram’s melons.
He started them from seeds in the greenhouse and when the plants were big enough, he transferred them outside into a black piece of plastic. You put the plastic down and put the plant down through it, he says. The plastic reduces weeds, controls moisture and is good for warmth. Once in the black plastic, Oram covered the plants with what’s called low tunnels — perforated pieces of black plastic that arch up about two feet.
“It’s almost like a mini greenhouse,” Oram says. “Once we started seeing them bloom we take the plastic top part off, so the pollinators can get in and pollinate them.”
He eventually saw that the fruit had set, but didn’t really think they would ripen.
“I was really surprised,” he says.
Other than the process mentioned he just took good care of the plants which grow as a ground vine, much like squash or pumpkins.
Last year was a bit of a trial run, but it worked out so well that this year he grew hundreds. Oram is getting some praise from fellow farmers in the area, too.
“Dad was talking to some of his buddies who were pretty impressed that we were growing them,” he says.
And, so far, the reviews from people who are buying them from the farm have been great, too. The hardest part has been convincing people they actually grew them. Initially, people were skeptical, Oram laughs.
“I think there is going to be a market for them once people do try them and get eating them because they are delicious.”
He also grew some watermelon this year on a trial run with the same method. They grew to a little smaller than a volleyball and were really sweet, as well. Next year he plans on growing several hundred.