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Eastern Red Cedar / Mouse Melons: an observed polyculture pairing

 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a) ~39" rain/year
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Recently I've seen several questions here and elsewhere about what to do with Eastern Red Cedars (juniperous virginiana) that seem to outcompete everything else and create a "death zone" of dry bare ground at their feet. I seem to have discovered at least one productive food plant that is delighted to climb all over the red cedars and produce copious produce while doing so.

I'm speaking of wild (where I live, but they are said to be easily cultivated) mouse melons (aka creeping cucumber, melothria pendula). See http://www.eattheweeds.com/creeping-cucumber-melothria-pendula/ (Not to be confused with melothria scabra, a similar plant from further south that's also sometimes called mouse melons.)

Fair warning: this has been an unusual year here with exceptional summer rains. My wild melothria pendula are ridiculously happy, forming a mat of vines ten inches thick in some areas of my property and climbing up and over every plant and shrub and small tree that's to be found. I picked a quart in twenty minutes this morning and probably heard more pop under my feet than managed to pick. It's very possible that the pictures I am sharing in this thread would not be easily reproducible in your forest garden. But hey, it's worth a try, eh?

So I've got a field in the back of the property with a fruitful persimmon tree near an osage orange that's got a strong red cedar growing up through its boughs. The melothria pendula is everywhere, covering the tussocks of grass, choking out several tall pokeweeds, and absolutely burying some young honey locust seedlings and a couple of small winged elm saplings. However it is not climbing up the persimmon or the osage orange trees.

But the red cedar? The pendula vines are at least 8 feet up that tree, forming mats on the tops of the branches, and making it ridiculously easy to pick the mouse melons because they are hanging underneath the cedar branches while the foilage is mostly on top. The stuff growing on the ground you have sort of rip up the vines in a clump and turn it over to expose the fruit, at considerable damage to the fragile vines. The ones growing in the cedar you can just reach in and easily pick. They are also more attractive in color, since mouse melons don't color much when they are growing in the dark under the mat of vines, but they do color well in the partial sun environment in the cedar tree.

The vines are doing by far the best on the sunny side of the tree; in order to reproduce this you'd have to get them planted where sunshine can reach them, water them adequately, and still have them close enough to train up the cedar tree. It might be a little bit tricky, but if the non-productivity of your cedars offends you, this might help!

mouse-melons-in-cedar.jpg
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mouse melon vines climbing a cedar
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mouse melons among cedar branches
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a quart of mouse melons
 
Keith Murphy
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Location: NE Tennessee
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That's interesting Dan. I have a large "belt" of Eastern Red Cedar on my property as well. You probably already know this, but it's not actually a cedar its a juniper. Either way, it's pretty rot and insect resistant. Makes great fenceposts etc if you need to thin them out.

keith
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a) ~39" rain/year
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Yup, the berries on mine are sweet and gin-flavored, which is sort of a Juniper ("gin"ever) giveaway.

Interestingly I was just out looking at the red cedar shown here. It is probably going to get chopped because it's growing adjacent (trunks touching) to a persimmon tree that I want to make healthier -- it's the largest male (non fruit-bearing) persimmon in several hundred yards and it's just yards from my most productive female tree. So I think that red cedar competing with both persimmons for water needs to go.
 
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