Monday, July 5, 2010

Not quite 'Strawberry Fields Forever', but how about 'Melon Fields for the Summer'?

The recipe for turning an old parking into a place of beautiful food production requires a whole heap of hard work, a dash of youthful exuberance (not to be confused with mere youthfulness) and easily a dozen pinches of creativity!  These pinches of creativity seem to come at random times, when after much pondering and head scratching, an idea will pop out of thin air.. and land squarely in your lap waiting for you to do something with it... 

So one day in May, while working on turning a parking lot into a farm, it became obvious that a 75 degree day quickly heated up on a black asphalt parking lot.  Because, as many of you know, black absorbs the light energy that strikes it, and then radiates it back out into the air in the form of heatwaves.  This is the basic concept behind the architectural use of dark stone in homes to absorb the sun's warmth during the day, and radiate it at night, thus reducing heating costs.

Well, as the heat factor rose, and it became quite apparent the black asphalt parking lot would do the same thing, the wheels started turning.  How could this attribute of the parking lot be put to use in creating a more productive farm system at the site?  What plants would most benefit from this?  And what design would be both low-cost and functional?  Well, as the question turned over and over (and over..and over.. ), my dry mouth and dehydrated body began dreaming of a ripe, juicy, sweet watermelon.  And Waa-LAA, that was it!  Watermelons and melons would thrive on top of a surface that radiated off heat all night long.  Watermelons, canteloupes, honeydews, etc., love warm and humid summer nights... and if Minnesota happened to have another cool summer like last year, this extra warmth could prove to be a boon.  So the melon fields were born...

The next design question was how to create a melon field using a minimal amount of soil as soil is a premium resource on this type of agricultural project, so wise use of said resource becomes paramount!  Not wanting  to cover the entire melon 'field' in soil, some type of container became the obvious next choice.. but in what form??  The mind's eye envisioned about 20-30 individual containers with 4-5 melon plants per container.  Wine barrels cut in half would have been both aethestically wonderful, and amazingly expensive.  Large black plastic pots?  While cheaper, still not quite cheap enough and the black pot on the black asphalt would literally cook on those 90+ degree days...but then the Muses sang and creativity sprung forth from the wells of inspiration!

Already having made potato towers from fencing, straw and soil (see previous post for more exciting details) .. why not apply the same concept here, only cutting the bins in half for a makeshift melon container?  After calculating out the material costs, I realized each container would only cost me about $1.75 + soil cost... and the straw layer around the outside would both reduce evaporation, and also reflect the sun, hence keeping the soil cooler than using a black plastic pot.

The image to the left is culmination of this idea into about 25 melon containers, with the pictures below showing the little melon transplants right after they were first planted (left) and the most recent picture of their growth (right), where they are just starting to range outside their proverbial 'nest'... who's your mama bird??

So how are they doing?  Their growth so far is pretty good.  And in terms of water, they are currently getting a good drenching every third day (even during the hot dry stretches), so evaporative losses seem minimal. 

The melon field contains some dear old friends in a new form (watermelons... var: Blacktail Mountain, Little Baby Flower;) and some new friends I am looking forward to inviting over for dinner! (melons... var: Boule d'Or, Charantais, Haogen, Sun Jewel, and Savor.)

Now let this be a word to the wise farmer.. never, ever, think you will remember what flats you seeded what melons (or any other plant for that matter!) into. In the craziness of getting a farm up and going the first year... well, labels didn't quite flow through the process... and while these were the types planted in the spring, which ones came up and made it into the melon field is a slightly different story... with the final chapter entitled, "Hmmm, now WHO are YOU?"  (and the epilogue, "oooh, YUMM!)

Next design challenge, how to keep those pesky rabbits from nibbling on the melons once they come in for a landing.... rabbit stew anyone?

Watch for future updates on the melon field experiment here at Growing Lots Blog or at Urban Farmer of Seward.


  1. What a delightful display of creativity, both in design and writing!