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American Enterprise Bank

Melon madness: You can’t fool Mother Nature

An article in last week’s Baker County Press highlighted local kids growing some humongous cabbages for a classroom project sponsored by Bonnie Plants nursery in Alabama.

They can compete for growing a prize winning cabbage and maybe get their photo on the nursery’s website.

And they haven’t been the only ones out there striving for mega-sized items from the garden.

Twenty farmers in Japan recently got an unexpected surprise by trying to rush melons to maturity to reap the profits. Seems the farmers got a little overzealous in dousing their crops with an accelerated growth hormone. What they ended up harvesting were not super-sized fruits but a super-sized mess.

The melons turned into organic land mines and literally started exploding on the vines.

The incident underscores a basic and fundamentally important component of plant biotechnology: It’s a good idea to read the instructions on the label.

The farmers used a tongue-twisting chemical spray known as forchlorfenuron (say that rapidly 10 times in a row). This plant growth accelerator is typically used in the United States on grapes and kiwi fruit (bet you didn’t know that, did you?) and is not meant for larger fruits like melons.

The compound stimulates lateral growth (size increase) within the fruit and when applied correctly increases firmness and shelf-life.

The farmers apparently did not read the directions which states that you apply it at the beginning of the growing cycle (they used it much later) and during dry conditions (it had been raining heavily).

And they planted a thin-skinned variety of melon already given to breaking open if left on the vine too long.

Strike three! No hope for this crop of melons (the farmers fed the aftermath to their pigs) but hope is not lost for others.

Every year folks gather in a small Arkansas town for the Hope Watermelon Festival. One entrant, Lloyd Bright, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2006 when his 268.8 pound watermelon was certified as the largest in the world.

In researching this column I was introduced to an entire world of watermelon facts, trivia and the plethora of melon-related fixations and activities people seem to have.

Strange fact #1. Watermelon is a vegetable, not a fruit.

Watermelon is a vegetable? Have you ever heard this before? Neither had I, but it’s true. It’s related to cucumbers, squash and pumpkins.

Strange fact #2. There is an entire culture devoted to the imaginative destruction of watermelons, preferably by shooting or exploding.

Okay, so there are people who spend their spare time shooting watermelons with guns, which I find infinitely puzzling, but hey, curling is a sport and I don’t get that either.

If you’re a child of the 70s then you remember Gallagher, the entertainer who made smashing watermelons and other foodstuffs with his Sledge-O-Matic hammer one of his main comedic shticks.

Fans came to Gallagher’s shows with sheets of plastic because, without it, especially if they sat in the first five rows, they went home covered in fruit and vegetable puree.

Why is this funny? I don’t know, but when I revisited his videos on YouTube recently I laughed as hard as I did back then.

Maybe instead of going to war, people should toss watermelons to express frustration and settle disputes. It would significantly reduce national defense spending, increase agricultural profits and cut down on the need for therapists.

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