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Melon Pits! Will it work?

 
David Goodman
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Inspired by you madmen and madwomen, I've been punching holes in my front yard and filling them with wood and other goodies. In a couple months, I'll plant them with melons, squash, etc.

I tried something similar in TN clay and had moderate success. Check this out:

http://www.floridasurvivalgardening.com/2013/01/melon-pits.html

Anyone have any suggestions? Not enough wood?

 
Tyler Ludens
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I love it, I think it will work! I would put some bigger logs in there if they are available.

 
Amedean Messan
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I am skeptical. I doubt the bioavailability of nutrients will be processed fast enough to provide the intended benefit. Particularly being an annual crop, my guess it will yield better in the next season when decomposition has become more established, but again this is my theory.
 
Justin Deri
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Amedean Messan wrote:I am skeptical. I doubt the bioavailability of nutrients will be processed fast enough to provide the intended benefit. Particularly being an annual crop, my guess it will yield better in the next season when decomposition has become more established, but again this is my theory.


I think there are plenty of nutrients available in the urine soaked straw, manure and chicken yard waste. Not sure you could get much more immediately available nutrients, except fish or blood meal. I think it's a great idea since melons like well drained roots, but plenty of moisture and nutrients. I'd just be careful with the pallets since those are often treated.
 
Brenda Groth
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oh i hope it does, please let us know

I'm always having a problem with the real warm weather plants that I try to grow here like melons ..I'm always looking for better success with them. (Michigan)..I always buy the shortest season melons i can find and start them in pots inside..but they still don't do well here.

but I'm a sucker for trying again ..harder.. earlier..more protection..etc.

 
Amedean Messan
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The nutrients are there, but the natural process of decomposition breaks down the material into simpler forms and this requires time. This is why making compost is popular so I would say dig the hole and piss in a pile of compost if you must. Fresh chicken manure is incredibly acidic so I would compost it and then apply the finished product to the plant.
 
Tyler Ludens
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It seems to me the material will have composted somewhat in a couple months, also, melons seem to like growing in compost heaps.

 
Amedean Messan
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This is true, but what practice is optimal?

I believe it would be more efficient to dig the whole, place compost and then seed, but this is unremarkable because everyone does this. Throw in some other goodies if you wish but the compost should provide the chemistry for proper germination and root development in the immediate time.
 
Justin Deri
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Amedean Messan wrote:This is true, but what practice is optimal?

I believe it would be more efficient to dig the whole, place compost and then seed, but this is unremarkable because everyone does this. Throw in some other goodies if you wish but the compost should provide the chemistry for proper germination and root development in the immediate time.


Nutrients won't make a difference in germination. Light, water and Oxygen are the variables for seed germination. Until the cotyledons have emerged, all nutrient requirements come from the seed itself. Also, aside from organic matter, the only real difference between manure and compost is the solubility. In manure, nitrogen is in a soluble form that can easily leach. While in compost it is in a more stable humus like form.

I think with the clay soil of the original poster, adding as much organic matter (OM) as possible will be the key. Clay soil is great because it can hold lots of nutrients on all those fine soil particles. The problem is the moisture, which means it'll warm more slowly and can quickly become waterlogged. Increasing the OM will help the soil hold more water. Also, I'd try to end up with a mound rather than a pit. It'll stay drier and warm more quickly as well as help shed excess water. Mulch is great too!
 
David Goodman
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Thank you for all the comments.

I used to grow in clay - now I'm in Florida sand. The problem here is that organic material disappears fast. The ground eats compost.

I'm hoping that the combination of fast nitrogen (manure/urine/etc.) with the slower decomposition of junk mail, wood, leaves, etc. will make these things a good start for melons and a good long-term place for fertility. If I were a rich man (da de da de da de da de da), I'd cover the entire yard with compost, wood chips, etc., or hire a tractor to tear it all up and then plant cover crops... but... I don't have a lot of extra cash, so I'm trying to do it a square yard at a time.

I may also plant corn/sunflowers in the center of these and let the vines run out from those.

As for pallets being treated - I hadn't heard of that. The wood looks like plain white oak to me and I know the termites eat it pretty quickly. That, of course, doesn't mean it's not toxic! I just had a few rotten ones to get rid of so I buried them. Maybe I'll just stick to branches and logs in the future.

Another thing: I'm hoping the vigorous vines will crush down the grass around these pits. Anyone else have luck with that?
 
Rachell Koenig
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I would leave out the junk mail. But that's me. You got me thinking about doing the same for my gourds... thanks!
 
David Goodman
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Don't worry: it's not just junk mail. I'm also shoving my bills in there!
 
Justin Deri
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Vidad MaGoodn wrote:Don't worry: it's not just junk mail. I'm also shoving my bills in there!


I too have a few bills I can send in to your pit. Can never get too much organic matter in there!
 
David Goodman
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Thanks, Justin. You know... I imagine a bill collector might be a good long-term source of fertility as well.

"The Taxman Memorial Gardens" has a nice ring to it, though I think that would violate at least 7 or 8 of the 3 core tenets of permaculture...

 
Rachell Koenig
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All that shit might over fertilize... use a wood chipper.
 
David Goodman
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(Note to self: Do NOT get on Ms. Koenig's bad side)

 
David Goodman
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The weather is starting to warm up here - I may start planting these pits with sunflowers in the next week or so. So far, the favas and lentils in them are growing decently with almost no water. That should improve as the wood rots, I imagine.

 
Judith Browning
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@David, I noticed you have favas and lentils growing...do they take similar temperatures to grow? I am able to overwinter favas here...we have some snow and ice and temps down to zero sometimes. I sprout lentils all winter to eat and noticed they are easy to sprout in our coolish kitchen but hadn't thought about planting some as a winter crop. I do see you are in a much warmer zone.
 
David Goodman
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Here they grow without the frosts bothering them. However, we haven't had cold below the 20s in the few years I've been using them for a cover crop. Hard to say how low they'll handle - it'd be a good experiment!

I also use chick peas and dry garden peas in the winter when I can find them in bags at the grocery. Most of my cover crops come from the bins at Whole Foods or the dry bean and pea section of Publix. Cheap!

 
David Goodman
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Update! The Melon Pits worked well!

We grew "Strawberry Watermelons" and Seminole Pumpkins with good success. The ground around the pits was terrible... but the vines still grew rampantly. Awesome.

I'm digging more and continuing to write on my progress. This year's gardening is mostly done, but I'm employing this again in the spring.



StrawberryWatermelon.jpg
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SeminolePumpkin.jpg
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MelonPitAgain.jpg
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MelonPitWatermelon.jpg
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Ty Morrison
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I love this idea.

My problem with hugelkulture thus far has been finding dirt to put on a 6 foot all pile of wood.

I would have to dig a lot of ditches (ok: I get the three down, three up cross section concept) but that's a lot of digging and piling. Besides, have you ever noticed there is less dirt to pile with than there was in the ditch? (Where does it go?)

Now digging a hole, filling it with stuff and putting the residual dirt back on, when you have no source for dirt, seems like a good idea to me.

Do you think you get all the hugelkulture above-grade benefits in year three that Paul touts with a melon-pit? You know: no supplemental irrigation?
 
Jen Shrock
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I know that I am way late to the discussion, but here is a link that would help you to determine if pallets were safe to use. http://greenupgrader.com/19085/how-to-tell-if-wood-pallets-are-safe-for-crafting/
 
David Goodman
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Hey, Jen... let's just re-start the discussion. Hugel hugel hugel! Thanks for the link.

Ty - my irrigation needs were hard to determine this year. Lots more rain than usual. There were a few times I watered the vines but for the most part they took care of themselves.

I think it would've been better if I added a lot more wood. Here in Florida we have excellent drainage. Raised beds dry out really, really fast. I haven't done a big piled up mound because of my fears of it drying out, plus a general lack of large quantities of wood on my property.

Fortunately, I just ended up with a lot of big rotten oak chunks I can bury. I'm going to make pits with a lot more wood in them, plus build a proper hugelkultur bed.

I was teaching at the Florida Earthskills Gathering this last weekend and met another Florida gardener who told me he'd had good success and that they didn't dry out. That's enough endorsement for me... I'm jumping in.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Jen Shrock
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Spring, where I am at, are exceptionally wet. Even more so because the water table where I am at comes right to the surface in the spring (have clay and and a hardpan layer that the water tends to migrate above). Things do dry out a bit in the summer, so I might give this a try. Never hurts to experiment, correct? Isn't that what it is all about, learning what works for my situation? I will have to put little mini cages over the planting areas until the plants get a bit of a foothold because I have crows that like to come down and eat all the seeds and pluck out all the very young plants. I think that they are almost (but not quite) worse than the deer.
 
David Goodman
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@Jen

If it's that wet, I'd mound them up more... I did that in TN where I had clay over rock and poor drainage. And yes - experiment! That's been my success as a gardener. Lots of eggs... lots of baskets.

 
David Goodman
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@Dale

Thank you much. I need to post more photos. I'm working on getting a videographer over here, too.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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