This is the first time that I have ever attempted to grow any sort of melon. I wasn’t too picky about the varieties, as quarantine had just started and I used whatever seeds I found available in Kaufland, cantaloupe, and watermelon of indiscriminate varieties. The cantaloupes were quick to germinate in the greenhouse, but the watermelons were much slower.
I decided to interplant my melons since they are from the squash family with corn… in an attempt play with three sisters concept, which the simply put, the corn grows tall, the pole beans use the corn for support and the melons spread low, blocking out the weeds. I was using only two of the three, as I had no pole beans, only bush.
The area of the garden that I planted was inundated with ant colonies, which infested my melons. The battle of the aphid and the ants ensued. In the past, I have used several biological treatments, the main one being a neem oil spray, but I want to be more sustainable and local in my pest management approach. The neem oil comes from the neem tree, native to India, and the tropics, which means when using neem oil, there is a carbon footprint and sustainable issue attached to relying on it for all your pest elimination needs. In preparation for the growing season, I found out about fermented nettle tea.
Like many people in Bulgaria, I have access to an abundance of stinging nettles or коприва. I have never been partial to cooking with them, but I do appreciate the value they can bring to an organic garden. The ratio was straight forward, 1kg nettles: 10l water. I placed it in a bucket, stirred every now, and again, as time went on the smell was noxious. It engulfed the space and seemed to linger on every surface. After 2 weeks, Angel helped me drain it.
For the seeping water, I opted to use the special Kyustendil mineral water, which rich in hydrogen sulfite. Some additional studies, show that the use of hydrogen sulfite in the garden can “greatly enhance plant growth.” And to top off the winning combination, I added a touch of my homemade castile soap.
I made a small batch of the spray specifically for the melons, in my Ikea spray bottle. I carefully unfurled the curled leaves and drenched their undersides. All 10 plants received 500ml of spray. The only issue was the smell. I didn’t wear rubber gloves while spraying, the stench of rotting nettles clung to my skin. It wasn’t till many hours later and multiple attempts at scrubbing, rubbing with lemon juice, and washing my hands that the odor dissipated. Tip: always impermeable gloves when spraying fermented nettle tea.
After re-examining my previous spray efforts, the next day… the leaves look less curled and the appearance of the aphids diminished, but the ants were back at it. I am preparing a second spray with mineral water, castile soap, and peppermint extract to deter the ants.
For the final touch, I am going to side-dress the row corn and melons with freshly turned compost. The idea is to give some nutrients to the plants, so they have the strength to repel further attacks. While I don’t subscribe to a particular system or philosophy of sustainable agriculture. I believe in thoughtful examinations of problems and the interconnectedness of their possible solutions.