Skip to main content

Milking the Watermelons


Tokyo's hot and humid summers present the perfect atmosphere for growing tomatoes, peppers, and a wide variety of vegetables. The trouble is, though, it is also the ideal atmosphere for powdery mildew. The bane of our farm and my garden, along with aphids, powdery mildew tends to attack the cucurbit crops without compunction. My first year on the farm we grew watermelons and squash, but powdery mildew settled in and essentially ruined both crops. Zucchini, thankfully, comes and goes so quickly that the spores don't have much time to attack it.

Last year for the first time in years the farmers planted a tentative row of cucumbers to see what might happen. Beautifully trellised and tended, we reaped a very nice crop and they found enough inspiration to plant at least three rows this year. Two rows of squash have also been added to the mix, and so far blooms and young fruit alike look good.

Milk drops on watermelon leaves.
In my own garden, I opted for watermelon rather than squash this year. Watermelon is one of my favorite summer fruits ever, and while I enjoyed the squash of years past I really like watermelon. It's interplanted with sweet corn (another first for me) in a nod to the American triumvirate of corn, beans, and squash. The beans are just next door in the same row and happily blooming. So far, everyone looks good here, too.

But, to be frank, I'm a little worried. Powdery mildew is lurking out there. I'm also still a little worried about my soil. I'm not entirely sure I've given my plants the best growing medium possible for assorted reasons, so I am concerned that perhaps they are not strong enough to withstand an attack. Weekly dousings of a homemade organic nutrient solution are helping, but I still found myself lying awake at night fussing. (I know. Get a life, right?)

Then I remembered something that Michael Phillips wrote in The Holistic Orchard. He cited studies done in Australia and Brazil where milk sprayed on crops at a 10% solution effectively reduced the occurrence of powdery mildew. Phillips writes that calcium inhibits fungal spore germination, in this case Sphaerotheca fuliginea, while others suggest that the naturally occurring salts and fats in milk may also play a role in slowing the fungus' spread.

Phillips recommends using whey, a by-product of the cheese-making process, which often comes free or nearly so, and like milk, is benign in the environment. Farmers in New Zealand reportedly used milk fresh from the cow, while others experimented with skim milk. Wagner Bettiol, the Brazilian scientist behind the research, used whey as well as milk in his experiments.

For my part, I used whole milk bought at the grocery store at something close to the recommended 10-percent solution in my watering can. A spray bottle would be ideal, but I decided to opt for the simplest solution at hand. It does mean the underside of the leaves was missed, but I'm hopeful that enough will be absorbed to make it worthwhile. This paired with good plant spacing and plans for future trimming to ensure air flow should help stave off disease problems over the course of the summer. Here's hoping for a watermelon rich summer!

Comments

Dona B said…
How is this working so far? I battle mildew constantly in my cool coastal neighborhood and have an abundance of whey since I started making cheese recently! Are you noticing that it is helping on your plants? The leaves of that watermelon plant are beautiful, by the way!
So far, so good, Dona, but I've only given them one application. I'll keep you posted on their progress. I'm thinking of applying it to other garden members, too, but haven't committed to anything yet. The corn and the watermelon seem to be enjoying it, but they may also be enjoying the beginning of the rainy season, too. :)

Popular posts from this blog

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans. Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties. Heirloom and F1 Varieties In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1. In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time unti

Kamakura Farmers Market: Giant Buddhas and Good Vegetables

Kamakura Farmers Market entrance A little more than an hour train ride south of Tokyo sits Kamakura. Like Kyoto and Nara, Kamakura is a former capital full to the brim with temples, shrines, and a bounty of historical sites lining its winding streets. Nestled in a cozy bay with beaches and a giant Buddha tucked amongst the rest, it's a city that invites multiple visits if not at least one. And those seeking a farmers market well-stocked with traditional vegetables, skilled growers ready to share recipes and chat about their wares, along with some nifty prepared foods to rejuvenate themselves after so many temples surely won't be disappointed, either. Kamakura Farmers Market - right side full of signs Started nearly twenty years ago, the Kamakura Farmers Market or Kamakurasui Nyogyou Rensokubaijo, runs seven days a week nearly year-round. A ten-minute walk from the station, the market is located in what at first glance looks like nothing so much as a run-down w

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

Satoimo in all their hairy glory. This post first appeared in slightly different form on Garden to Table as part of the 2012  Blogathon . The website has since moved on to the ether, but the post is still a good one. After all, people here are still eating satoimo on a daily basis, and many others are just seeing these little potato-like objects for the first time. Enjoy! Satoimo is one of Japan's odder vegetables. Under it's rough, slightly furry skin is white flesh that is a little bit slimy even raw, and with a gentle nutty flavor.* Baked, grilled, steamed with dashi, or deep-fried satoimo stands well on its own or paired up with other vegetables and meats in a wide variety of soups and stews . (The leaves are also edible.) Satoimo stores well, and like any root crop worth the effort, stocks are just running low on this household favorite as the farmers in my area of Tokyo get ready to put a new crop in the ground in May. I cannot say I was a fan of this l