“Yellow Moon” leads to…..Sweet Pea Harvest-Time!

Desert ecologist Dr. Tony Burgess enjoying the glow of Oam Mashad — “Yellow Moon” in Tohono O’odham is the lunar cycle or “month” when so many desert plants are blooming yellow.

illustration palo verde post June7,2019

Massive bloom of foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), in spring 2019, extended beyond the normal Oam Mashad, making it the longest lasting and dense-est flowering in botanical memory! (MABurgess photo)

THIS WEEK in early June is a narrow window of opportunity–one of those Manna-from-Heaven moments we are blessed with in our colorful and productive Sonoran Desert.  Tia Marta here, encouraging you to get out into the desert right away to enjoy this pulse of plenty!  What an experience it is, eating fresh sweet peas right off a tree! No fuss. No kitchen cooking.  It’s an easy outdoor treat that grandparents, little kids, even overactive entrepreneurs can all enjoy, along with our feathered and four-legged neighbors.

To ID our most directly-edible and flavorful bean-tree–the foothills, one of many palo verde species–note close-up that the top petal of its butterfly-shaped pea flower is WHITE, and its pinnate leaflets are teensy. (MABurgess photo)

Palo verde flowers, once pollinated by buzzing helpers, shed their petals and morph in May into clusters of bright green seed pods.  Foothills paloverde pods are not flat–check these photos.  Rather, they look like beads on a short string.

Not to be confused with foothills palo verde, the flat pods of blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) have no constriction between seeds, and a bitter taste to my palate–not nearly as flavorful as foothills. [Avoid Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata) with its orange petal and potentially toxic seed.]

Imagine each seed of a foothills palo verde (Kuk Chu’hu-dahk) pod inside a long green sheath, a constriction between each like beads on a necklace. (MABurgess photo)

My Tohono O’odham harvesting teacher and mentor, Juanita Ahil, taught me that Kuk Chu’hu-dahk kai is its best when eaten in the green stage, as the pea-size seeds are just swelling.  She told me, “Don’t wait til they are real fat, or the seeds will get a little tough and lose some sweetness.”   These sweet green peas are chucky-jam-full of legume protein, complex carbs and sugars, and phytonutrients in active mode.

In a short few days when temperatures soar, the soft green seeds shrink into hard little brown “stones,” which can be used in a totally different way, as a protein-rich flour (but that’s another story!)

With the gift of our cool wet spring of 2019, there is a good chance our sweet pea harvest season may extend into June beyond the “normal” first week.  But don’t hesitate!  Go browse with a basket or canvas bag to bring some home to share or prep into salad or snacks.  Long sleeves, gloves and sunglasses are suggested, as branches of foothills palo verde are sharp-tipped.  [A voice of experience:  In your enthusiasm to look up and reach for handfuls, don’t forget to look down for rocks or rattlers in your shared space.]

Note the structural similarity of a peeled foothills-palo-verde pod to edamame at your favorite sushi bar. They do look like botanical sisters. For a great “desert edamame” recipe go to my June13,2019, savorthesouthwest post (link below).

Beyond the simple pleasure of eating directly from the tree, you can also make “desert edamame” with palo verde pods.  They make a wonderfully unexpected hors d’oeuvre or potluck finger-food. Click on my June 13, 2015 post Lovely and Luscious Legume Trees for fabulous recipe ideas and helpful photos. More sources are at Bean Tree Farm’s website,  and desertharvesters.org.

To peruse and purchase my traditional Southwest foods and watercolor artwork, visit my website www.flordemayoarts.com or several special shops in Tucson:   NativeSeedsSEARCH, the Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park Museum Shop.  Next fall-winter season, sign up to learn more about traditional Baja Arizona foods in our City of Gastronomy downtown tours at Tucson Presidio Museum.  I also teach timely hands-on wild foods harvesting workshops through Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Foothills palo verde pods plump and ready to pick for a sweet desert treat

Now…grab a pal and go ye into desert foothills to browse palo verde pea-pods –mindfully, joyfully, gratefully!

“Succulent” Events with Succulent Tastes–and Invitations….

It’s show time in the desert–S’oo’ahm masad or “yellow moon” for the Tohono O’odham–the month in which seemingly everything in the Sonoran Desert blooms a glorious yellow, arroyos lined with blooming blue palo verde and mesquite, hillsides covered with paper flower, palo verde and cactus blossoms.

Staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor) flower, bud and ant protector

Staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor) flower, bud and ant-protector (MABurgess photo)

These spiny, possibly-threatening desert plants have amazing nutritious gifts to pollinators and other hungry creatures, including ants, packrats… and humans.

Tia Marta here with an invitation to learn lots more about our many species of Sonoran Desert chollas, how they fit into the fabric of desert life, and how they have been used by traditional people for generations.  Come join  Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society’s SONORA XI gathering next weekend Friday-Sunday, April 15-17, 2016, for a rich opportunity to enjoy demos, tastes, lectures, and exhibits.  You can learn more about this downtown Tucson event (held at HotelTucsonInnSuites) and register at http://www.tucsoncactus.org.  On Saturday, April 16, I invite you to attend one of my ethnobotany demonstrations at the open conference.  I’ll guide you through careful “hands-on experiences” with edible and useful succulents, complete with some surprising and yummy bites!

De-spining cholla buds at Mission Garden Workshop (MABurgess)

De-spining cholla buds at Mission Garden Workshop (MABurgess)

Cross-section of staghorn cholla flower bud showing stamens and ovules (MABurgess)

Cross-section of staghorn cholla flower bud showing stamens, stigma, and ovules (MABurgess)

Delicious Marinated White Sonora Wheat-berry Salad with Cholla Buds at Mission Garden workshop (MABurgess)

Delicious Marinated White Sonora Wheat-berry Salad with Cholla Buds at Mission Garden workshop (MABurgess)



Last weekend we celebrated the beginning of the cholla harvest at Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Garden in a workshop led by Flor de Mayo’s Tia Marta (www.tucsonsbirthplace.org/archives).   We explored its ecology, taxonomy, traditional preparation, its culture and archaeological evidence.  The class was topped with a feast using cholla buds in several innovative and delectable dishes–one with heirloom White Sonora Wheat.  For great cholla recipe ideas, scroll back to an earlier Savor blog post   https://savorthesouthwest.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/heres-to-the-budding-desert/.   For additional interesting cholla information and dried cholla buds for purchase, check out  www.flordemayoarts.com.

Young new-growth stem of prickly pear in leaf (Opuntia engelmannii) ready for harvesting (MABurgess)

Young new-growth stem of prickly pear in leaf (Opuntia engelmannii) ready for harvesting (MABurgess)

Another desert food staple–worthy of being considered a medicine as it is so effective in balancing bloodsugar–is our own   prickly pear.  With de-spining and preparation you can enjoy its tangy taste as nopalitos, pickled, stir-fried, or in salads.  Enjoy nopal dishes at some of Tucson’s favorite restaurants like Janos’ Downtown Kitchen or Teresa’s Mosaic.  Attend the demo nopal preparation and tastes at the SONORA XI Conference….(www.tucsoncactus.org).

White Sonora Wheat with swelling seed heads at FOTB's Mission Garden (MABurgess)

White Sonora Wheat with swelling seed heads at FOTB’s Mission Garden–to mature in May (MABurgess)




Seeing the heirloom winter White Sonora Wheat growing tall and green at Mission Garden, its swelling kernels in the “milk-stage,” I’m envisioning the harvest to come, and to plans for La Fiesta de San Ysidro Labrador, when the wheat, first introduced to S-chuk-Shon by Padre Kino, will be maturing and ready to thresh.  My mother’s wonderful caregiver Rosa has introduced us to a delectable recipe she created celebrating both White Sonora Wheat and the fresh vegetables currently available at farmers’ markets.  Her recipe for Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora Wheat follows–light as a souflee.

Rosa serving her Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora flour (MABurgess)

Rosa serving her Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora flour (MABurgess)


Rosa's delicious Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora flour

Rosa’s delicious Market Veggie Omelette with White Sonora flour (MABurgess)



2 Tbsp heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour

1 lg egg or 2 small eggs

1 cup market vegetables, sautéed in olive oil (shaved carrots, chopped fresh spinach, minced I’itoi’s onions bulb and tops…)

2+ Tbsp org. broth, veg or chicken

salt to taste; butter for curing skillet


Saute chopped vegetables in olive oil, then simmer with broth until soft.   Allow to cool. Beat eggs with White Sonora Wheat flour.  Mix with vegetables. Pre-heat small iron skillet, melt butter, pour in mixture.  Let omelette puff.  Turn when slightly brown on bottom, then gently brown on reverse.  Serve w/salsa fresca or sliced avocados. (Another wonderful variation on her omelette is to add prepared cholla buds!)

Find dry cholla buds at the Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday’s St Philips farmers’ market, at NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, at the San Xavier Farm Coop booth at Thursday’s Santa Cruz market at the Mercado, or at the Tucson Cactus&Succulent Society’s SONORA XI conference next weekend.  You can find the freshest greens for Rosa’s Veggie Omelette, including local baby spinach, onions, etc at our many Tucson farmers markets, especially at Tom’s Marana-farm booth at Sunday St Philips market (www.foodinroot.com), or at the Community Food Bank booth at Thursday’s Santa Cruz market at the Mercado.  Easily grow your own shallots for the omelette with NativeSeeds/SEARCH’s I’itoi’s onions–the snappy little spreading onion that keeps on giving.

Come witness ever-growing inspirations for your own garden by visiting Mission Garden at the foot of A-Mountain, Tucson–it’s a must!  There are wonderful docents there to guide you every Saturday morning now that the weather is warming.  In Mission Garden we see examples of cultivated food and native medicine plants that have fed and helped humans in this valley for over 4000 years!  With that track record for desert living, chances are these same plants can help support us into an unsure future of hotter and drier weather–with assurance and nurture.  We owe inexpressible thanks to those farmers and gardeners who have preceded us!

[For more info about succulent events, tours, happenings, and products, check out http://www.tucsoncactus.org; http://www.flordemayoarts.com; http://www.tucsonsbirthplace.org; http://www.nativeseeds.org, http://www.sanxaviercoop.org]

Heirloom Grains & Heirloom Fruits marry in a Holiday Pie

Padre Kino's Membrillo Fruit with Slide Rock Star King Old Fashioned Double Delicious Apples

An Heirloom Fruit Harvest:  Padre Kino’s Membrillo Fruit from my garden with Star King Old Fashioned Double Delicious Apples from Slide Rock State Park heirloom orchard (MABurgess photo)

In both the low Sonoran Desert and in the higher Southwest, fruits are hanging on the trees ready for harvest.  At Mission Garden the quince trees, better known as membrillo, are bearing their last sturdy fruits.  Mission Garden was the site of a wonderful celebration of membrillo in October with talented cook Josefina demonstrating how to make cajeta de membrillo, our sweet autumn dessert delicacy.

Membrillo (Quince) trees heavy with fruit at Mission Garden Tucson, near A-Mountain

Membrillo (Quince) trees heavy with fruit at Mission Garden in Tucson, Arizona, near A-Mountain–Come visit any Saturday morning!

Membrillo is a perfect food-giving tree for low desert as it can can handle heat--great for a kitchen garden

Membrillo is a perfect food-giving tree for low desert as it can can handle heat–great for a kitchen garden

Tia Marta here to share what is happening in my kitchen these days, bringing together some of my most admired heirloom grain and fruit ingredients–both cultivated and wild–knowing that I have guests coming for the holidays who need a little taste of LOCAL!

It is pie time in our household.  And today it is Membrillo-Apple Pie with White Sonora Wheat-Mesquite pie crust!      I mean, how much more local can one get?

This was the year that our five-year-old quince tree, which we purchased from Desert Survivors Nursery Kino Fruit-tree Project, and which we planted a couple of years ago in our backyard, decided to flower and set fruit–just enough this time to make a couple of pies.  We look forward to the amazing productivity in future years that the Mission Garden quince trees are already showing.  Quince or membrillo fruits look like a cross between yellow apples and pears but are far more sturdy than either of those.    Before ripening they are covered with fuzz and, as they lose it and become shinier and more yellow, you know they are ripening.

Because they are harder than other fruit, be sure to cut membrillo very carefully. Expect them to come out with not-so -symmetrical slices.

Because they are harder than other fruit, be sure to cut membrillo with extra care. Expect this to result in not-so -symmetrical slices–no problem inside a pie.

Even when this aromatic rose-family fruit is ripe, its somewhat sweet tissue never really softens.  They may feel and taste granular, similar to some pear varieties.  But they are substantial food, full of good potassium, vitamin C, dietary fiber, and iron.  In other regions, quince has been used with apples to make jellies as it aids the gelling process.  Since the time of the missionaries into Pimeria Alta, the traditional way of preparing membrillo here is to cook it down with raw sugarcane sugar to make the cajeta confection.  (A detailed report of cajeta de membrillo will make a neat separate post.)

I chose to mix membrillo with its sweet cousin, heirloom local apples, to create a Southwestern version of the all-American pie.  From the neat old Pendley Homestead at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, I obtained the deep maroon-skinned apples shown above from a 1912 orchard.  From the English Family Orchards at Willcox I added a few little galas.  Don’t ever be ashamed to ask orchardists at farmers’ markets if they have any “rejects” for sale.  Many a tasty apple gets tossed because it has a blemish or knick.  Such apples can become a rewarding gift in pies, apple-brown-betty, or applesauce.

Pressing mesquite/whiteSonora wheat dough into pie pan

Pressing mesquite/whiteSonora wheat dough into pie pan

rolling mesquite white Son wheat pie dough

Mesquite meal and white Sonora wheat make a fabulous pie-crust! It is not as elastic as store-bought crusts so be careful in rolling it onto your pie pan. Shown here is a very flat spatula I use as an assist.

Next step, after growing, harvesting, slicing the heirloom fruits, is getting dusted by making my local heirloom Mesquite/White Sonora Wheat Pie Crust (recipe following):

[Kids, don’t try this culinary photographic technique at home.  Your one-handed iPhone will get really sticky.  Mine will never be the same.]


Ingredients for heirloom wheat pie crust:

1 1/2 cups freshly milled whole, organic White Sonora Wheat flour*

1/2 cup freshly milled local velvet mesquite meal**

1 tsp Real-salt or sea salt

2/3 cup shortening (I use organic butter)

5-7 Tbsp ice water

*Organic, fresh-milled white Sonora wheat flour is available for your holiday baking from our Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday St Philips Farmers Market, or by contacting us at info@flordemayoarts.com or  520-907-9471 to order it ahead.                                                                                                                                                                             **Freshly-milled velvet mesquite pod meal (flour) is available via the same Flor de Mayo contacts above.                                                                                                                                                                     Both kinds of heirloom flour are available at a special Heirloom Grains event this coming SATURDAY November 21 at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell, Tucson–the public is invited 10am-2pm.

Pinching a tall edge of my mesquite/heirloom wheat pie crust

Pinching a tall scalloped edge of my mesquite/heirloom wheat pie crust–This provides a retaining wall so juicy filling will not overflow while cooking.

Directions for heirloom wheat pie crust (lattice top):

Sift dry ingredients.  Cut in shortening into small pea size lumps.  Sprinkle in tablespoons of ice water gradually, mixing with a fork.  Form 2 balls of dough. Dust each ball with more white Sonoran wheat flour. Flatten each out on a well floured board and roll with rolling pin or bottle.  Use rolling pin as in the illustration, to lift lower pie crust dough onto pie pan.  Press in with fingers.  Keep second ball of dough for working on after pie filling has filled the lower crust. [See recipe for Membrillo/Apple Pie Filling below.]

With second dough ball, roll out as before then cut in 1/2 inch wide strips to lay in basket-weave pattern atop the pie filling to allow filling to lower as it cooks.

Membrillo/Apple Pie Filling ingredients:

(Cook ahead slices and chunks of 4-5 membrillo fruits, washed, then cut with or without skin.  Boil in good drinking water for 20 minutes or until soft.  I am one of those crazies who thinks fruit skins are healthy and full of phytonutrients, so I leave the colorful fruit skins on.)

2 cups sliced membrillo fruit, pre-cooked  (reserve liquid for other gelled salads)

2 cups thinly sliced heirloom apples

1/2 cup organic cane sugar

1/2 cup organic brown sugar

2 Tbsp organic heirloom white Sonora Wheat flour

1/2-1 tsp ground cinnamon

dash sea salt

1-2 Tbsp organic butter

juice of one small heirloom sweet lime       (I got mine from the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace Mission Garden booth at the Thursday Santa Cruz farmers market at the Mercado San Agustin, West Congress, Tucson)

Membrillo/apple pie filling in shell ready to bake

Membrillo/apple pie filling in shell ready to bake. Check out the heirloom sweet lime adjacent–with the dimple–this one from Mission Garden.

Membrillo/Apple Pie-Filling Directions:       Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine sugars, flour, cinnamon, salt, then mix with the sliced apples.  Fill uncooked pastry crust (shell) with mixture.  Squeeze the sweet lime juice over the filling and place dollups of butter on top.  Place lattice strips of the mesquite/whiteSonorawheat dough across the top of the filling as in picture below.  BAKE for 40-50 minutes or until the crust looks golden brown.  Note:  mesquite meal has natural complex sugars which may caramelize or brown faster than white flour so keep an eye on it after 40 minutes.  The one in my photo got a little too done for my taste, but it will still be fabulous.

Membrillo/heirloom apple pie with mesquite/white Sonora wheat crust--hot and ready to serve

Membrillo/heirloom apple pie with lattice crust of mesquite/white Sonora wheat –hot and ready to serve–To the left in photo is flour milled from BKWFarms wheat-berries.

There will be several ancient grains available at our upcoming Celebration of Heirloom Grains this SATURDAY at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Store.  Put it on your calendar and dig out your favorite recipes!

Heirloom purple prairie barley available at Flor de Mayo booth,St Philips Farmers Market and at the NSS Grain Event Saturday!

Heirloom purple prairie barley available at Flor de Mayo booth,St Philips Farmers Market and at the NSS Grain Event Saturday!

In addition to our native Mesquite Flour, there will be such fresh lovely grains as organic Hard Red Wheat grown by BKW Farms in Marana which is superb for breads.  Our organic white Sonora wheat is the best for pastries.   Also available will be the ancient Purple Prairie Barley originally from Afghanistan, now from Hayden Mills.

For the knowing baker, milling the whole grain fresh creates a totally different and wondrous effect to breads and pastries because the enzymes and other constituents in the grain remain “lively” for only a few days after milling.  Come enjoy the milling process right before your eyes and feel the vitality of the flour you can take home to bake with!

Our thanks go to the caring padres who first brought the grains to the desert Southwest, to the generations of farmers who continued to grow and save the grain, to NSS for “rediscovering” and conserving them so carefully for the future, and to new farmers like San Xavier Farm Coop, BKWFarmsInc, Ramona Farms, and Hayden Flour Mills for multiplying them for our nutrition, enjoyment, and sustainable desert living!

For more info please call NativeSeeds/SEARCH at 520-622-5561 or Flor de Mayo at 520-907-9471.  See you at the Milling and our Celebration of the Heirloom Grains!!

Magdalena heirloom barley grown at Mission Garden, Tucson

Magdalena heirloom barley grown at Mission Garden, Tucson

A savory pilaf made with heirloom purple prairie barley--watch for future recipes--Grain available at the Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday St Philips market

A savory pilaf made with heirloom purple prairie barley–watch for future recipes–Whole grain available at the Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday St Philips market, and at Saturday’s Heirloom Grain Celebration

Where Monsoon Melons Reign….


Native Mayo watermelon from the hot coastal plains of Sonora (seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

Native Mayo watermelon from the hot coastal plains of Sonora (seed from NativeSeeds/SEARCH)

I see them peeking up out of the moist soil and spreading their many-fingered leaves out, inviting sunlight……there in the secluded orchard behind adobe walls at the base of A-Mountain. Hooray, the Tohono O’odham watermelons are rising again in the living history huerta at Mission Garden!…….

Seedling Tohono O'odham watermelon emerges with a water-assist

Seedling Tohono O’odham watermelon emerges with a water-assist

Ah, these monsoon rains have made it happen again—they thrill soul and body, triggering seeds to sprout and bringing the desert to life all around us. I can hear all the little stomates letting out their, “Whoopee! Whoopee at last! We didn’t know if we could hang in there much longer!”

Tia Marta here, wishing you joy with the renewing humidity and moisture blessing the earth—mat o sha ju:–when it rains. It seems all people know deep in their hearts that we need to, and want to, be singing in the rain. In the poetry of wordsmith Ofelia Zepeda, “Wa nt o m-ne’i g ju:kĭ ne’i. I would sing for you rain songs….” What higher compliment or loving expression could one hear in the desert than that? [For more tastes of her poetry, find Zepeda’s book Ocean Power (1995) and other works at University of Arizona Press.]

One of my most admired traditional Tohono O’odham gardening mentors, Laura Kerman, used to watch the southeastern sky as the clouds were building. When she knew rain was close and her skin was getting softer, that meant it was planting time again. To gardeners steeped in more temperate biomes, it’s a different yet palpable signal for planting time, the feeling of the sap rising. Here in the desert it is the reconstituting of our very integumen that we feel—then we know…(and yes some of us truly feel it in our bones too.) It brings a deep urge to plant seed in the ground, an urge imbedded in our physical being, deep in our psyche, somehow in our genetic memory.

At this very moment I can sense that the seed racks at every hardware store are getting lighter. The Native Seeds/SEARCH store and webstore are restocking seed packets at a fast pace to keep up with the monsoon pulse of gardeners.

My tastebuds think ahead as I scan the racks and webcatalogs. What flavorful squashes will I try this season? What fragrant and refreshing melons? What healthier grain, heirloom bean, ancient corn variety? Delicious and appropriate ideas are sprouting at the Mission Garden living history orchard. You can plan a tour any Saturday morning to inspire your own gardening bug. [www.tucsonsbirthplace.org]

Guarijio Grain Amaranth for greens, high protein grain, and glorious summer color!

Guarijio Grain Amaranth for greens, high protein grain, and glorious summer color!

I think the plant that loves rain most is Amaranth.  (Such an insult to call our wild native amaranth a “careless weed” or “pigweed”! Better, the Tohono O’odham moniker which translates “rain spinach,” ju:hukia i:wagi. Within a week after a rain the tender young greens that pop up uninvited in your garden can be plucked to make a most healthy dish.)   For planting delightful color and beta-carotene-rich greens, try Guarijio Grain Amaranth, originally from the little-known tribe from southern Sonora and saved by Native Seeds/SEARCHers (Amaranthus hypochondriachus x A.hybridus or “guegui” in the Mayo and Guarijio tongue).  Guegui gives extra bonuses beyond greens: after showy red flower plumes grace your garden, you can bag seedheads to retrieve a plentiful grain that is 15-18% protein. Cooked amaranth seeds make a fine pilaf or rich hot cereal. Try popping amaranth seed in a hot dry skillet then add them to salads or to lighten up biscuit dough.

Delicious and well adapted, this Mayo Minol grande is perfect for Baja Arizona

Delicious and well adapted, this Mayo Minol grande is perfect for Baja Arizona

As I plant melon seeds I am thinking of the delectable future they promise.  Native Mayo People of coastal Sonora and Sinaloa have perfected Mayo Minol Grande , a canteloup-like melon adapted to the heat that can perform well in Baja Arizona gardens. It makes a beautiful breakfast complement or a summer dessert served à la mode on a generous wedge of the orange fruit.

Melon de Castille from NativeSeeds/SEARCH--another summer treat

Melon de Castille from NativeSeeds/SEARCH–another summer treat

Similar in color to Mayo Minol but with smoother outer skin is the Melon de Castille which grew successfully in last summer’s Mission Garden. [Seeds of all of these can be found at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store or in the online catalog http://www.nativeseeds.org.]

Refreshing and prolific are Mayo Indian watermelon (photo from Mission Garden)

Refreshing and prolific are Mayo Indian watermelon (photo from Mission Garden)

At harvest time last summer, Mission Garden volunteers enjoyed an orgy when the rich red-fleshed Mayo watermelons were ripe, in an effort to save seeds to return to NSS. Good duty—such a forward thinking and benevolent activity is seed saving—and someone’s gotta do it.
Melons in your garden will indeed need water so plan on a reliable drip system and some form of water-harvesting berms to direct any rainfall runoff. Plant your melon seeds at the lowest part of your garden where water tends to accumulate. Give the vines room to sprawl out, even over not-so-good ground, so long as the roots are in rich soil.

Tohono O'odham keli ba:so--by any name, a success for Baja Arizona gardens

Tohono O’odham keli ba:so–by any name, a success for Baja Arizona gardens

Traditions of Desert People—the Tohono O’odham—provide a model of truly sustainable living in the Sonoran Desert. From them we have been given seeds of two of the best-adapted and tasty melons of all: a honeydew-like cushaw melon known as keli ba:so (pronounced gurli-bahsho), and the Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon.  Open up a keli ba:so for a sweet treat to use in a refreshing liquado or smoothie, or in a melon-ball salad perhaps laced with mint-agave nectar sauce. Translating the name keli ba:so opens up another dimension—the wonderful humor of the Desert People. The name (used especially by women) refers to the super-wrinkly texture of the outer melon skin and means “old man’s chest.” In retaliation, men have a different name for the same melon, “ohks tohn.” You might guess where this is going—it translates “old lady’s knees.”

Unique rich flavor, color, and hot-weather-hardy--that's Tohono O'odham yellow watermelon

Unique rich flavor, color, and hot-weather-hardy–that’s Tohono O’odham yellow watermelon

Watermelons must have had an exciting ride to the New World some 400 years ago, arriving in what is now central Mexico from Africa with the first Europeans. Apparently the flavor and plant-ability of watermelon, and indeed its transport-ability, were so appealing to Native Peoples of Mexico that the fruit spread from its introductory source like wildfire. By the time the Spanish explorer Alarçon arrived at the northern end of El Mar de Cortes meeting Yuman people for the first time at the Colorado River’s mouth, watermelon was already part of their agriculture and diet! This fact stumped historians and ethnobotanists for years—(like how could the same watermelon have been cultivated in both hemispheres?)—until they finally figured out the speed with which a favored food can migrate. Watermelon–the original fast food.

Tohono O'odham yellow-meated watermelon from NativeSeeds/SEARCH is a color and taste delight

Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon from NativeSeeds/SEARCH is a color and taste delight

Prepare yourself for a whole new flavor experience with Tohono O’odham yellow-meated watermelon. Its sweetness is non-cloying and gentle with an almost musky rich bouquet—a different taste realm from any red watermelon you’ve ever tasted. Put slices of this luscious watermelon on an hors d’oeuvres tray, or slice it alternating with red watermelon for a colorful picnic buffet. Joining orange Mayo Minol, cubes of lime-green keli ba:ṣo, red Mayo watermelon, and T.O. yellow watermelon completes a rainbow of color and flavor to create the ultimate Southwest fruit salad.
Happy monsoon planting and gardening to you as you practice sustainable agriculture in your own backyard! With the term introduced by Wendall Berry, may your “slow knowledge” grow as you tend your melon vines and cheer on the pollinators in anticipation of summer’s sweet and nutritious bounty of melons and amaranths!
As the monsoon season progresses, watch for the San Xavier Coop Association’s T.O. yellow watermelons for sale at the Thursday Santa Cruz farmers’ market at Mercado San Augustin. For more ideas, advice and seeds for monsoon garden heirlooms, visit the NSS store on North Campbell Ave.  Also, come by our Flor de Mayo booth at the new St Phillips Sunday farmers’ market in its charming, refreshing oasis setting. Rod and Tia Marta of Flor de Mayo have experience, recommendations, and stories to share, and perfect monsoon seeds for the season. See you Sunday at St. Phillips!

The seeds are READY to put in the ground!  All they need is a little help!

The seeds are READY to put in the ground! All they need is a little help!