The Melon Man

Post last updated: August 13th, 2018

This is Melon Man Gene’s melon patch way out west in the Rocky Mountains.

Yes, those are chickens hither and yonder. Gene refers to them as his “egg laying composters.” The chickens are integral to breaking down his clay soil. The clay content would allow him to make pottery with it if he were artistically inclined. The kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, garden clippings and unripened end-of-season fruits are tossed into the coop. The chickens then stir it, aerate it, eat it, and render these nutrients as compostable material.

I “met” Gene in the comments of my post about Melons, I Ain’t Got Melons. I was intrigued that he grew a wide variety of heirlooms (and fruit trees) but had a special fondness for melons. So I emailed him. The appearance of my email in his inbox must have freaked him out because hours passed before he responded. He confessed that it was probably “not safe” for him to be writing to me because I wrote about crazy people and his wife already thought he was crazy. He never quite admitted that he thought I was crazy, too, but it was there between the lines. I had to laugh. He probably thought I was one of those strange characters one meets up with on the way to see the Wizard after they tumble down the rabbit hole onto the yellow brick road to Oz.

Gene admitted that he might, indeed, be crazy but he drew the line at being called a tree hugger, vegan, greenie, foodie, or anything like that. He likes melons, plain and simple. Each year, on a quarter acre, he plants around 120-150 heirlooms of pumpkin, muskmelon and watermelon.

Atlantic Giant Pumpkin which grew to 75 pounds
One grew to 110 pounds
Blacktail Mountain Watermelon
Ali Baba Watermelon
One of these grew to 40 pounds
Orangeglo

Here’s a list of the melons currently in his patch:

Muskmelon

Watermelon

Watermelon

Golden Honeymoon Ali Baba Missouri Heirloom YF
Honeydew Black Diamond-YB Moon & Stars
Ineya Black Diamond-YF Moon & Stars Yellow Flesh
Black’s Cross Ribbed Blacktail Mountain Mountain Hoosier
Black’s Cross Unribbed Carolina Cross Orangeglo
Collective Farm Woman Congo Osh Kirgizia
Crane Crimson Sweet Royal Golden
Crenshaw Blanco Desert King Stone Mountain
Healy’s Pride Georgia Rattlesnake Sugar Baby
Jake’s Golden Russian Tendergold
Persian Jubilee Thai Chatchai 185
Petit Gris de Rennes Katanya
Schoon’s Hard Shell Kolb’s Gem
Uzbek Sweetness Ledmon
Minnesota Midget Milky Way Moon & Stars

Whip out your green-with-envy face because his garden is grown from an impressive seed collection:

The amazing seed collection

Gene believes “we really don’t know a whole lot about plants or even nature in general. All our facts are suspect because our experts know less than they think they do.” He concedes “they may often be right, but that’s more due to chance (observations from which assumptions are made) rather than a real understanding of plants.” He also thinks we should “realize Mother Nature has been growing stuff for thousands of years without any help from us, has been quite successful at it, has supported vast animal populations with it, and is ultimately responsible for all of the material we have to work with today. Given the great number of things the experts can’t explain about nature increases the chance they actually are wrong.” All of this influences the way he gardens.

Like a lot of guys I’ve encountered in the garden network, the challenge of gardening appeals to him. Gene has considered everything — commercial farming methods, hydroponics, aquaponics, vermiculture (ewwww, worms) – and keeps only what makes sense to him. He admits he doesn’t always do things the “right” way and he’s tried all sorts of crazy stuff (the stuff that led his wife to wonder if she was raising six kids instead of five) but has found that some of his crazy stuff was wildly successful. Other experiments have been “less successful” but he usually has a good idea why his experiment didn’t work.

Gene’s Methodology:

  • Most of his veggies are laid out in 10×4 garden beds covered with newspaper. Tomatoes and cucumbers are grown vertically; pumpkins, muskmelons, watermelons  and squash are allowed to sprawl.
  • His entire garden is covered with UV stabilized vinyl billboard with a black backing. The advertising goes face down on the soil. The billboard helps with weed suppression and moderation of soil temperatures. To get billboard, he suggested contacting your local billboard company and asking for vinyl (not paper) billboard after the ad runs.
Gene’s garden laid out with the vinyl billboard
  • I asked Gene how it was that the billboard didn’t fry his garden. He admitted, “Everyone I talked to about my billboard idea told me it would fry my stuff. Most of our days this summer have been over 95, with a number of them well over 100 but my garden did not fry. If I take temperatures at the surface of the billboard when the sun is up, it’s extremely hot. If I go just an inch down in the soil, there is a drastic temperature change. Think of it this way. When light hits something and isn’t reflected, it transforms into heat. If the light hits the soil, it’s turning into heat in the soil. If it hits the billboard, it turns into heat at the billboard. Heat rises. The billboard prevents the light from making it all the way to the soil before it turns into heat. What it also does is warm air trapped between the billboard and the soil. The billboard acts as an insulator between the trapped air and the air temperatures above the billboard (like throwing a blanket over the soil). So when it’s hot outside, the soil is cooler than it would be if it was directly exposed to the sun. When it’s cool outside (at night after a warm day), the soil is warmer because the blanket effect keeps the soil from cooling down. The opposite happens when you cover your soil with clear plastic. You’ll have the same blanket effect, but the light makes it all the way to the soil (below the blanket) and turns into heat. You will absolutely fry everything down there. This is called solarizing your soil.” In lieu of a billboard, a tarp could be used. He uses the billboard because it’s more durable and cuts holes in it for his melons and square foot beds.
  • Water soluble fertilizer is dispersed through a drip irrigation system beneath the billboard. His fertilizer ratio is much lower than recommended because he finds it easier to correct under-fertilization than over-fertilization. He confesses to using Azomite, as well, but strongly recommends getting a soil sample to figure out what your soil needs. Azomite is included in his fertilization plan because it has a combination of macro and micro nutrients needed by most plants. His theory is simple – most plants we grow in our gardens are not native to where we’re growing them so he likes to provide as many trace elements as the plant would get in its native habitat.
  • The drip irrigation system is on a timer. This allows him to keep his plant roots, which are more sensitive to temperature, cooler at the root zone than at their leaves. As a result, his plants easily weather temperatures of 105F.
  • To avoid pesticides, he separates his plants to make it harder for the squash vine borer to find his plants.
  • Mice are a problem for him. It doesn’t matter how many he removes from the garden, more come. Gene complains that some of his melons have a hole on both sides as though the mice went in on one side and went out the other. They love the muskmelons so much that Gene now picks “one for the mice, one for me, etc.”

I wonder how many times Gene stands, like me, at the edge of the garden, hands on hips, muttering, “Well, that didn’t work.”

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of Gene’s Melon Patch as much as I did. If you have questions about his growing methods, I will forward them to him. He’s willing to share his knowledge.

All photos in this article were provided by Gene the Melon Man. He provided additional information in the Comments section.

26 thoughts on “The Melon Man”

  1. Wow! We need more people like Gene in the world who are passionate about what they do and want to do it properly and sometimes differently. The melons must taste better than the mass produced, genetically modified ones grown for supermarkets!
    As for you writing about crazy people – I love it!!!!

    1. PJ — Loved all your flowers, including the ones you didn’t plant. Yes, I agree about Gene. I thought his gardening methods were very interesting. Lucky for us, he got over his leeriness about talking to a crazy woman!

    2. Properly is debatable, but differently I have nailed 🙂

      They are pretty tasty. More importantly, some are just VERY different melons than what you can buy in the store – if I want to enjoy that taste, I have no choice but to grow it myself because there’s no where else to get it. When is the last time you went to the grocery store to buy a watermelon with orange flesh like the Orangeglo? Or how about the Crane melon? It’s a crenshaw type with a taste to die for! I’ve had people who hate “cantaloupe” say they love the Crane.

      1. Gene, is it possible to buy some Chatchai watermelon seed from you? I have successfully grown this variety and neglected to save seed from it this past season. Thank you — Jeff

        1. Jeff – I contacted Gene the Watermelon Man for you. He doesn’t sell seeds nor does he have enough Chatchai seeds on hand to share right now. If you’ll let us know what you are looking for in a watermelon, Gene will try to suggest alternatives.

          1. Thank you. If Gene can grow Chatchai and save seeds for 2021, that would be fine. I would be happy to have five seeds and grow it for seed and remit some back to him for 2021. I am an avid and successful grower, 100% of our income comes from our farm. However, we just grow watermelons for the “home team” — employees and family. We trialed many watermelons 10 years ago and Chatchai was the best small watermelon in our trials, Allsweet the best large. We bought the Chatchai seeds from Baker Creek originally, but they no longer offer it; our seed saving efforts fell short this year and we find ourselves without any presently.
            Trials included Blacktail Mountain, Moon and Stars, Crimson Sweet, Quetzali, Sorbet Swirl, Ali Baba, a couple from the Ukraine among others. Our soil is volcanic, 5700 feet elev., about 2% organic matter; regardless of rave reviews, we don’t know how a variety will rank until we try it in our soil. We liked Quetzali, an heirloom as good as Chatchai, but less disease resistant.

  2. Wanted to let Gene the Melon Man know that one of the old time ways to rid yard and gardens of mice was to plant mint in amongst the veggies. My parents believed in outdoor cats for that job also.

      1. Was hoping Farmpest would chime back in. In regards to it being invasive though – my weeds (in the non-billboarded areas) are invasive. So are my current tomatoes (ever mow your tomatoes before? I had some get loose outside the tarp area and they were thicker than the weeds. We’ve been mowing them.). If the mint won’t choke out the melons, and it will keep mice away, then I’d look at that as a real plus. I don’t know the answer to either though. Need to investigate. Since you’ve grown mint before, have you ever tried growing it with anything else? I don’t have any experience with it myself.

        1. Gene – Farmpest will probably reappear. Stone might have some thoughts on this, too. He has a lot of gardening experience. I learned years ago that mints were invasive so I never would allow them to get loose. Had no idea that tomatoes would ever need to be mowed. I did grow some beebalm, a member of the mint family, in my garden sans pot. It was okay the first year, as I recall, but then it started to spread so I snatched it out and threw the stuff out. I love the flowers on it but I just can’t handle invasive stuff. Not with two acres and only me and Poppie working that acreage.
          I need some advice on growing seeds under a grow light. I was told I could use regular fluorescent lights instead of grow lights but my stuff is getting leggy. Just how close to the seed tray does the light need to be?

          1. Regular lights work fine but you may want to pay attention to the color temperature. I’ve been using 4100K myself. You want the lights as close as you can get them. Your standard fluorescent won’t get hot enough to burn the plant, but you do have to keep an eye on it or your plant will grow up around the bulb inside the fixture and end up rather warped. I also tend to use the T-10 40W bulbs because I’m more interested in the light output of the fixture than I am in energy savings at the expense of light (which was the whole point to begin with). You can find the T-10 shop light fixtures pretty cheap at Home Depot. I replace the short chains on the lights with longer chains I run around a PVC pipe and clip so I can adjust the height of my lights as the plants grow. I sometimes end up resorting them from tallest to shortest so I can maximize the use of the light. With too little light, your plants will be leggy and the stems will be weaker. You need no light until the seeds actually sprout. The second they do though, you need light or it will be too late very shortly. Heat will greatly improve germination times and growth. I’ve got a whole setup I do with grow lights that I’ve spent a fair deal of time optimizing. It still has room for improvement in a few places (I’m trying to integrate oscillating fan to improve the stem strength – and I still need to find something better than popsicle sticks for labels (yes I know about the issues with wood)), but it works pretty well.

          2. I actually took a class on this with the County Extension Agent. I remember them saying no light till they sprout but once they sprout you need light immediately. I just don’t remember them saying anything about the chains. I figured that out the other day when my cabbage were coming up way too straggly but I suspect I still don’t have it low enough and maybe cool fluorescent isn’t the best choice. Maybe I should get a heat pad. I’m not sure I can even rescue these cabbage now. It might not matter, anyway, with the amount of rain we are getting. It may never dry out. I did an article back in January on the grow lights and another in February on using bleach jugs as markers.

          3. If the plant gets tall and leggy, light is an issue. They get tall because they’re trying to find more light. Assuming you don’t have them in a temperature range completely unsuitable for them, heat accelerates growth. Lack of heat is just going to make things take longer. If the plant isn’t tall, but looks like crap (and there are no obvious fungal issues, etc.) then you’re probably dealing with a nutrient deficiency (water, fertilizer, etc.) Keep in mind that deficiencies can also occur when you have plenty of the needed item present because it’s not in a form available to the plant. For example, Blossom End Rot that many of us are probably familiar with is a calcium deficiency. I find it very common that plants that suffer from it have plenty of calcium in the soil, but something like temperature, watering issues, or over fertilization has inhibited the plant from being able to uptake the calcium it needs.

            You might also want to keep in mind that you really can’t over-water most plants. Too much water does not kill plants or cause root rot. Lack of oxygen kills plants and causes root rot. As long as you insure the plant gets enough oxygen either through dissolved oxygen in the water or through good drainage (design your drain system right and you’ll find frequent watering can actually improve oxygen flow to your roots), too much water isn’t an issue. Some types of Aquaponics grow all plants that have their roots submerged 24 hours a day – they just have to make sure they have plenty of dissolved oxygen in the water.

          4. Okay, I’ll water and fertilize some more. I’ve got them in the house because it’s still too hot here and they’ll just be hit by worms and other assorted bugs. Might need to lower the lights again, too.

    1. So have you tried mint or know someone that did? I’ll have to research it, but if that does keep mice away, and the invasiveness isn’t an issue, that might work for me. I know mint likes water, but with my irrigation, that shouldn’t be a problem.

      1. Gene – I’m not sure whether you were directing this question at me or Farmpest. I’ve always heard that mint is invasive so I tend to be very careful with it, i.e., keep it in a pot with a tightly woven screen over the hole in the bottom of the pot. Hopefully, Farmpest will address this.

      2. I’ve grown mint. It hates being containerized. Mint makes a wonderful turf alternative… Just mow it like your tomatoes.
        I’m growing it without any extra water in my sandhill garden.
        Once I took my patch of apple mint and divided it to grow in a larger area of my previous garden… a bit of a mistake.
        It really depends on the mint as to invasiveness. I had a patch of mountain mint that will spread like wildfire if left unchecked, and if I turned it under, it was kaput… didn’t survive the experience.

        I didn’t really notice about mice with all the cats…

        I did admire it for attracting pollinators, and it’s great medicinally, plus… mint rushes as a strewing herb will run the sand fleas out of the house.

        I’d plant the mint. It’s a good plant to grow.

  3. @ Gene, Doesn’t the paint flake off the billboard? Otherwise, it certainly looks like a great way to put a stop to perennial weeds like purple nutsedge and bermuda. (annual weeds like chamberbitter and mulberry-weed, too).
    Are you shooting pictures from the roof of your house?

    @Mizz Chairman, I apologize for the broken link that I left in my comments at my sand blog… it’s now fixed….

    1. The paint doesn’t flake off that I’ve seen. Keep in mind that billboards are designed to survive some very harsh weather conditions for fairly long periods of time – they wouldn’t make it as billboards if they did. Also, these days, at least some (not sure of the percentage, I know for non-glossy newspaper it’s quite high) of the billboards use inks that are environmentally safe. So far, I’ve not seen any detrimental effect (including some I expected to see like negative effects from lack of air circulation), and I do see tons of evidence of worm activity down there. In general, if worms like your soil, it’s a great environment to grow in.

  4. Yes, mint will slowly spread. The roots don’t seem to go deep, doesn’t seem dense enough to actually choke out other plants and when you step on it, the scent is quite refreshing. I have planted it in flower beds for my son to have some in his ice tea and as ground cover and it did not interfere with my flowers. Personally I have not used it in a veggie garden. Perhaps someone could do a small test patch.
    If you get 3 or 4 cats, leave them outside, do not overfeed them, they will take care of your critter problem. In my world, mint and cats are better than mice and rats eating the harvest 🙂 Ugh!!

    1. I’d consider cats if I were certain they’d stay in my yard – but they won’t, I’m sure, and some of my neighbors aren’t going to care for that – particularly some with dogs or others with small chicks.

      Technically, I live in a cold desert. Rainfall is very little here during the summer months. I use micro irrigation, so the only things that survive are those which deal well with hard clay and little water (or have very deep roots so they can tap into the dispersion from the micro irrigation). I have doubts about whether mint would make it here unless I watered the area. Thoughts?

      1. In regards to a cat… I never got a cat – but a cat got me. I’ve been adopted. She’s probably got papers on me somewhere. Her previous owners got a dog and she moved out. We kept taking her back and she kept coming back. We didn’t let her in, but we’d pet her from time to time. Then pet more as she demanded. Then she snuck into the house a few times. We evicted her, she came back. When my wife came home with a kitty bowl and a bag of food I knew the battle was lost. This was further confirmed when I observed the cat utilizing my wife as a bio-warmed blanket. Later when my wife started telling me the cat had her pinned in the chair and wouldn’t let her up, it was pretty clear we were no longer free and had a new owner. I told the cat a couple years back I would tolerate her and offer SOME food in the winter if she’d handle the mice in the summer. Now she’s so fat I’m doubting her ability to hold up her end of the deal but all of her would-be boyfriends seem to be out there batting cleanup – even if she won’t give them the time of day.

        1. Gene — I hear your woes. I think my Siamese has papers on me, too. He’s worse than a boss in corporate america. Always bossing me around. I have two cats which means I have become a virtual cat butler.

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