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.
Here’s a list of the melons currently in his patch:
|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|
|Persian||Jubilee||Thai Chatchai 185|
|Petit Gris de Rennes||Katanya|
|Schoon’s Hard Shell||Kolb’s Gem|
|Minnesota Midget||Milky Way Moon & Stars|
Whip out your green-with-envy face because his garden is grown from an impressive 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.
- 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.
- 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.