Aley Chubeza #294, June 20th-22th 2016

Treasure Box – a FreeCycle Market at the Bookstop

Jerusalemites, the Bookstop at Mekor Haim/Gonenim is hosting a monthly FreeCycle market, every third Tuesday of the month, between 7-9 pm. If you’re not yet acquainted with the Bookstop, it’s a great initiative of a library open to all. The city’s two Bookstops, both on the Messila Park, are located on Massaryk and in Mekor Haim. The Bookstops are open to donate books and/or to take home whatever book you please. At the monthly FreeCycle market, it’s time to trade and recycle not only books, but good quality household items, used clothing, and more. For further details call Juda at 052-5587769.


watermelon houseThere was once a woman, let’s call her Helen Who made her home in a watermelon She brought in two stools, a chair and a broom,  Carved out a window and a living room,  Bought a cat to catch mice which she named Grover But all of a sudden… the season was over…

(Nurit Zarchi. Translated by Aliza Raz)

I have a sneaking suspicion that this woman living in the watermelon is actually residing in Chubeza, though it’s hard to imagine her fitting all of her belongings into our small fruits. Yet, the feeling of the watermelon season ending so abruptly is too familiar to me. It really is a short season–approximately a month– so before it ends, we wanted you to know a few facts about the wonderful watermelon. This week’s Newsletter is green and red all over…

The watermelon requires a great deal of heat, a throwback to its origins in South Africa and the Kalahari Desert. In the desert, the watermelon, which contains over 90% water, was an important and vital source of liquid to man and wild animals. The difficulty in choosing a good watermelon is an old story. In its wild form, the sweet watermelon is identical on the outside to a bitter watermelon, which is why the thirsty passerby would punch a hole in the watermelon rind to check its taste.

From South Africa, the watermelon spread to all of Africa, and was cultivated in Egypt over 4,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians drew depictions of watermelons to decorate sarcophagi and cave walls, and they would leave a watermelon near the dead to nourish them on their journey to the New World. The Hebrews knew it from Egypt, reminiscing, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons…”

From North Africa, the watermelon entered the Middle East where it grew well and was even mentioned in the Mishna. It arrived in China in the 10th century, and today China is the champion watermelon grower, followed closely by Turkey and Iran. In the 13th century, the Moors brought it with them to Europe, along with other plants they met in Africa and Asia. The watermelon arrived in America with the black slaves, as well as the settlers arriving from Europe.

Chubeza’s love affair with watermelons started with naiveté, pretentiousness, and… failure. During my last year in California, just before I established Chubeza, I raised red, orange and yellow watermelons (these are the colors inside) in a farm owned by Joe Perry, my mentor. We had nice success with the yields, and I was under the impression that growing watermelon would be simple, so I added watermelon to our crop list. The first year, the watermelons simply did not grow, and we only picked a few dozen from our fancy beds. Fortunately, back in 2004, our entire clientele also numbered a few dozen, so they received the watermelons as planned (which, admittedly, weren’t too sweet). One of the main reasons for this failure was the timing. I seeded watermelons like we did in California, at the end of spring. Yet springtime in Israel is fraught with viruses and disease, particularly among the cucurbit family to which our watermelon friend belongs.

After taking a hiatus of several years, gaining experience with cucurbits and their viruses, we made a second watermelon attempt six years ago. This time we seeded earlier and harvested a larger yield. A year later we did even better, and four years ago we dared to plant seedless watermelon plants. This sort of watermelon-growing is more complex than raising a standard seed-filled watermelon, for we are essentially trying to fight nature. The mission of every fruit and vegetable is to reproduce and generate offspring (seeds). Man, meanwhile, is bent on getting rid of the seeds, and not by spitting them out: human beings had grown weary of seeded fruits and set out to develop seedless varieties. Actually, a seedless watermelon does contain some tiny seeds, however most are transparent as well as infertile. You must admit this is strange, to try to develop a fruit which cannot produce seeds or offspring. On one hand, a vast scientific effort is being placed upon refining and improving human fertilization via IVF, freezing embryos and sperm, surrogates, etc., while simultaneously we are encouraging sterility for the fruits.

So how do these “seedless” watermelons work? Regular watermelon seeds are diploid seeds, i.e., containing two sets of X chromosomes. Those used in order to produce seedless watermelons are tetraploid, possessing four sets of X chromosomes. Seedless watermelon seeds have a harder than average shell, which is why it is more difficult to grow the melons from seeds. In most cases, they are planted as transplants that were started in the nursery under controlled conditions. The tetraploid seeds sprout and become plants that will generate leaves and flowers but no fruit, unless they’re fertilized from flowers of a regular seeded watermelon. Therefore, you must plant one plant of regular watermelons for every three to four plants of seedless ones. During pollination, each seed contributes half of its chromosomes: 1+2, resulting in a fruit whose seeds are tetraploid, possessing three sets of chromosomes. This number disrupts the seed’s ability to reproduce, and ultimately sterilizes it. Thus we receive a fruit which is juicy and sturdier than its seeded friends, but it evolved from the “virgin propagation” of an unfertilized cell. It’s called “a Parthenocarpic fruit,” in essence, the mule of the botanical world.…

Watermelons are also loved by animals and, of course, birds. Over the past several years that we’ve returned to growing watermelons, we’ve sacrificed a goodly amount to the sweet-tooth beaks of blackbirds and the teeth of marauding jackals. We protect our fruits with a vengeance, otherwise, we find them looking like this:

Which is when we cover the bed with a bird’s net preventing the blackbirds from feasting on this red, juicy delight.

As with the melons, this year, we have an additional competitor, or rather, a lot of them, from six feet under. The field mice have discovered the treasure, nibbled little holes in some of our melons and watermelons and gobbled away their sweet insides. This is a new problem for us, which we’d avoided till now. Perhaps in the past, the birds of prey scared them away, but something went awry this year. For some reason, the birds of prey are not eating enough mice to prevent them from reaching our melons.

I wrote about this two weeks ago. Fortunately, there is an ecological solution to this problem: mustering the barn owl for reinforcement. The barn owl is a night prey that feeds on rodents. In one night, it can gobble up 10 rodents, and a pair of barn owls can eat between 2,000-6,000 rodents a year. They love having offspring. A barn owl couple raises up to 13 chicks, and together, the big happy hungry family can definitely clean our field of mice and rats. In order for them to come live with us, we need to offer a solution for their living conditions and build Mrs. Owl a nesting crate, and… well, that’s it. By building these nesting crates, we tempt the young couples to the field. They’ve got lots to eat here, and we hope that next year (maybe even this year) we will no longer encounter the rodent problem. Read more about the barn owl as a biological form of pest control and how they cooperate with farmers in Israel here.

Watermelon is a healing fruit. Its large water content cleanses the body, making watermelon juice highly recommended for those suffering from bladder and liver deficiencies. It is also beneficial for cleansing the kidneys. Watermelon even helps to clean the body of cigarette smoke- -highly recommended for active and passive smokers.

Traditional Yemenite folk cures use watermelon seeds to rid bad breath and stains from the teeth and mouth. Crush the seeds well, immerse them in water, and then strain for a super mouthwash. In Iraq, the watermelon rind is used to treat fungal infections. Lybian Jews are known to rub their skin with watermelon rind to lighten age spots. Watermelon contains vitamin A in the form of Carotenoid, vitamin C, and vitamins from the B group as well (B1 and B2). It is low in nitrogen and high in potassium.

Further information about the nutritional and therapeutic virtues of our round, red, delicious friend can be found here (Hebrew).

Now, here’s how to select a ripe, sweet watermelon:

–       We pick the watermelon at its ripest, when the tendril near the stem dries up. But when choosing a watermelon at the stand, see if you can determine whether the stem is a little dry, indicating that the watermelon wasn’t picked while green.

–       The part that comes in contact with the ground changes its color to yellow, so you should look for a yellow spot on one of the watermelon sides.

–       And the most mysterious signal of all: if you tap on the fruit, you will hear a dim sound reverberating back to you.

How to store a watermelon:

The best temperature to store a watermelon is 12° C, but at room temperature (23°) the watermelon can be kept for a week to 10 days. A watermelon left out at room temperature for too long will lose its taste and change its texture.

It is not recommended to freeze a watermelon or store it in the cooler compartments of your fridge. Overexposure to cold can cause frostbite, taking a toll on the watermelon’s taste and making the inside soft and powdery. To store it after opening, wrap in plastic wrap and store at a temperature of 3-4°.

And once you have that excellent watermelon, slice it, add mint and feta cheese, and sit back and enjoy this spectacular summer treat, while reading a collection of surprising, interesting and humorous facts about watermelons (Hebrew)

Our best wishes to high school students who embarked on summer vacation this week. May we all enjoy a “watermelon” vacation: sweet, juicy, and a pleasure to share with friends!

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the Chubeza team



Monday: Lettuce, parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers/fakus, zucchini, Amoro squash, watermelon/acorn squash, New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard, potatoes, yellow/green beans. Small boxes only: garlic.

Large box, in addition: Scallions/onions, slice of pumpkin/corn, coriander/nana mint, eggplant.

Wednesday: Lettuce, parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers/fakus, zucchini, Amoro squash/slice of pumpkin, watermelon/melon, New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard, potatoes, corn. Small boxes only: garlic.

Large box, in addition: Scallions/onions, yellow/green beans, coriander/nana mint, eggplant.

And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: flour, fruits, honey, dates, almonds, garbanzo beans, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers, olive oil, bakery products and goat dairy too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. On our order system there’s a detailed listing of the products and their cost, you can make an order online now!