We can always tell when it’s coming. Someone new walks up to the farm stand and after taking a quick scan of what’s on the tables, stops short of ripping a plastic produce bag from one of the rolls and looks at us instead. (“Here we go,” we think to ourselves.)

Then the question: “Do you have any fruit?”

It doesn’t matter what month it is. It doesn’t matter if our produce selection is abundant that day or puny. It doesn’t even matter if we have crates and crates of red ripe tomatoes for sale. These people are looking for something sweet. Sugar sweet.

Usually I bite my tongue before blurting out “Tomatoes are fruit.” Other times, I just can’t help myself. The answer surprises people – and no doubt offends more than one – but I’m really not trying to be a smart aleck. Or, well, maybe I sort of am. I know darn good and well what they’re really asking for. The thing is, Central Texas isn’t a big fruit-producing area to begin with, and what fruit can be grown here comes only in brief spurts of seasonality. This ain’t California.

Plus, the combination of our farm’s microclimate and soil make-up doesn’t beg to be planted in many sugary fruit crops anyway. We have too many early and late freezes to try peaches; our soil and irrigation water are too alkaline for strawberries. We’ve found we can have some success with Texas hard pears, providing we have no floods followed by exceptional droughts (ha!), and the jury is still out on our poor tortured apple trees.

Yet we can indeed grow melons. For the past twelve years, our melon crops have largely been successful (provided the summer wasn’t an extremely rainy one) and so far, it’s looking like year thirteen is on its way to granting us some melon-y goodness as well. Still, it’s not as if it takes no effort. First off, we need to keep the critters out.

To block all deer access to the farm we have an eight-foot game fence surrounding our growing area, but that doesn’t stop smaller animals like raccoons and rock squirrels from getting in. For crops like melons and hard squash that set fruit right on the ground, we need a low fence, one that’s electrified. The fence won’t kill small animals, but it’ll give them quite a jolt.

And considering the melon patch lies directly across the pathway from a known rock squirrel haven,

we can’t afford to take any chances. All it would take, literally, is a hop, skip and a jump across the path and through a narrow stretch of weeds for a squirrel to land in melon paradise.

We hope to zap each one that tries. And they will try. I mean, really, if this were the view from your rodent rec room, could you resist the temptation?

Neither could I.

Excluding raccoons and squirrels from the melon patch isn’t the only challenge we face. An electric fence doesn’t mean a thing to Mother Nature. Like I mentioned earlier, rain can be a death sentence to a melon crop – too much moisture causes the fruit to split wide open before it has a chance to ripen. That’s not going to be an issue this year, obviously, even with last week’s miracle rain. While that rain did indeed cause a little crack here and there, the damage was negligible (and well worth it). What we’re struggling with now is the opposite problem.

When the temperature climbs to 100 degrees or more practically every single afternoon, adequate watering is nearly impossible. The best we can do is irrigate the melons every other day, since this crop is only one of many we’re attempting to keep alive. The day the melon patch receives its drink of water, it thrives.

Twenty-four hours later, however, it’s parched again.

Like a thirsty child – or perhaps a bar fly, or a wino – the melon crop is impatient for its next drink. We do our best to accommodate because we know that even the people who understand where we’re farming, the ones who want to buy what we have to sell any time throughout the year, still have that nagging question tucked away in the back of their minds.

Beginning this week, and at least for a little while, I can leave my snarky hat at home and answer, “Yes, we have fruit!”

* * *

For Wednesday’s farm stand, we’ll have:

Fruit! Cantaloupes (sooper-dooper sweet!) and perhaps some other types of melons if they ripen in time; tomatoes (though not as many as last week) – mostly Bella Rosa and Early Girls, plus some other varieties; a good amount of summer squash (finally!) – Zephyr, zucchini & some Cousa squash from our farm, plus white pattypan squash from Tecolote Farm; Mideast cucumbers from Tecolote Farm; four varieties of eggplant; super sweet Yellow Granex onions; bunches of basil; elephant garlic; Cubanelle peppers; some arugula; some red bell peppers; and the first of the season’s okra.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)