Lessons Learned: Watermelon Crop Failure Due to Untimely Rains

Sometimes, all the research and development can’t compete with unpredictable forces of nature. This past month, we received two days of heavy rain, during the middle of dry season. It destroyed our watermelon crop beyond saving. Here’s how it happened.

In Thailand, there are primarily two seasons: dry and wet. The dry season is further divided into cold (relatively) and hot. Dry season tends to be the optimal season for farming vegetables and fruits. Knowing this, and expecting there to be scant-to-no rain, we sowed our watermelon crop in our lower field where we grew our rice crop during wet season.

The ground of the field under the rice straw is still completely wet, more than three weeks since it rained.

This was our first field where we practiced no-till farming.  We dug out holes in the field every meter or so, dropped in some compost followed by seeds, more compost and then moved on to the next hole.  We covered the holes with the loose rice straw in the field.  The rice straw serves as a perfect moisture barrier and weed block.  As it would turn out, it worked too well.

Simple physics: the higher the water level, the greater the water pressure.

Because my staff are valuable to me and I don’t want them to use all their time carrying water to the furthest part of the farm, we designed an above-ground irrigation system.  A ministry friend, Cole Campbell, who serves the surrounding area with with his blacksmith and metalwork skills, created a stand for our 1000L water tank.  We hooked the tank up to 400m of drip line and began to irrigate the watermelon holes every few days.  Everything was working great…. until the rains came.

This watermelon plant is 2 months old.  It should be about 20 times larger by now with flowers.

I was in Chiang Mai when a cooling rain came to the region.  Little did I know that at the same time down south in Maesot, it was soaking our farm.  It turns out that the combination of our pre-rain irrigation, the rice-covered holes and the depth of holes themselves, didn’t allow for the water to dissipate quickly enough.  The watermelon all drowned and our crop is no more.

The likelihood of this happening next season is unlikely.  According to farmers from the region, they haven’t seen a rain during dry season like this one for at least 30 years.  Still, we will dig the holes more shallow in years to come.  In the end, we exchanged the watermelon crop for a hard-learned lesson.  But that’s agriculture.  Sometimes it comes easy, and sometimes it comes with hard knocks.  At least now we have something else to offer as we teach what we’ve learned.

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