Renewable Farming

“This is one one of the most delicious watermelons I’ve grown”

When Blake Carlson exclaims like that over his watermelon’s exceptional quality and flavor, we figure it’s worth asking what secrets he used to grow it. Certainly, WakeUP Summer was part of it, but what nutrients went into that red, crisp melon?

August 7, 2017 By Jerry Carlson — Call me a bragging Grandpa if you will, but it’s been fascinating to watch Blake and his brothers, Terry and Lane, enjoying the search for the perfect melon growing nutrient formula on our small research farm the past several years. The quick version of their “secret” is season-long foliar feeding with a wide array of nutrients and biologicals. Especially trace elements including the 90 or so micro-elements from SeaCrop or SEA-90. Usually, there’s a foliar feeding every two weeks through melon maturity.

Blake and his team don’t claim a secret formula or sequence of foliar sprays. Since we’ve tested dozens of micronutrient elixers, biostimulants and live microbial mixes over nearly 10 years, we have a lot of leftover samples in the WakeUP manufacturing plant. Often in past years, when finished spraying a test plot with a particular foliar nutrient mix, I sometimes drove the Hagie high-clearance sprayer past the melon field, swung the boom over the melons and treated them to what was left in the spray tank. 

In 2016 when Blake raised the melon in the accompanying photo, the patch had received regular feedings of soluble 20-20-20 from Diamond R in Florida, several blends of micronutrients, some SP-1, and I think some Lignition along with an amino acid biostimulant, Symbiosis AGx. With a melon patch, it’s not so much about the cost of ingredients but getting that regular spray trip accomplished, as often as weekly if you have the time.  Years ago, AgriEnergy Resources founder Dave Larson’s signature comment at seminars was: “The most fertile soil is the one with the widest and most abundant array of beneficial microbes.”

One of Blake’s melons

When raising human-edible crops like melons, something similar applies: You can foliar-feed a wide array of nutrients and traces — and let the melon sort out what it needs. We’ve heard the experts say it’s possible to overdo certain traces like boron or zinc because they displace other, more needed elements of a lower atomic weight. However, garden plants appear quite tolerant and willing to leave unused nutrients “on the plate” without constraining growth and fruiting. 

At our house, we’ve learned to be patient and wait for the boys’ watermelons to ripen, rather than suffering through the bland melons from commercial patches in Mexico or the Southern states. Bottom line: It’s the trace elements. Manganese, zinc, copper, boron in particular. And mobilizing those nutrients by foliar-feeding the fertility blended with a solution of 1 ounce of WakeUP Summer in each 2 gallons of water. The impact is that leaves pump more sugars and other nutrients into the fruit more quickly, all through the fruiting season.

We’ve never seen Blake’s melon vines wilt under fungal attacks, and haven’t been bothered by borers or other insect feeding. We use no insecticides or fungicides or other “cides.”

Also, Blake is a Seed Saver — choosing seed each season from the most delicious melons and planting them the following season. We rotate the patch location each year. Our soils are a heavier silt loam, not the sandy soils favored by Midwest melon growers. And this is northeast Iowa, not your renowned melon growing location.

This afternoon, Jill and I checked Blake’s melon patch. They’re coming on vigorously!