WAWASAN Park community farmers are eager to replant their prized Rock Melons after encountering major hiccups for their maiden crop.
The lessons learned from their recent encounter with crop pests which almost wiped out their entire rock melon farm have made the group more determined to reap sweet success for their next attempt.
Khooi Chu Boon who has been taking the lead at the community rock melon farm at Taman Wawasan Park in Puchong was at his wits end as he watched his “babies” wither and die before the fruits of his labour could be harvested.
“We planted our first batch of seeds in November last year. The project began with 375 bags with planting racks which we fondly call our clothes lines.”
“It takes between 70-75 days from planting for the rock melons to be ready for harvesting. We chose rock melons because they are easy to plant and the fruits fetch a handsome price in the market,” he said.
Chu Boon is a business coach and is also the personal assistant to MBSJ councilor George Yap for Zone 16 in Puchong.
“We enjoyed good growth at the beginning. The seedlings grew steadily and in no time were flowering. We refrained from using commercial pesticides and used neem oil to keep pesky bugs away.”
“Our joy turned to horror when we found out later that the bugs, repelled by the neem oil headed for the planting media in the bags and started laying eggs,” he added.
According to Chu Boon, members working the plot took two days off in early December thinking the heavy rain would take over the watering of the rock melon patch.
“When we returned to the farm, we noticed yellow dots on the leaves of the plants. They learned to their dismay the plants had been infected with the Downy Mildew fungus.”
“We panicked and started to do more research online and also consulted friends who had experience in handling this problem. By then, healthy plants started to wither,” he said, adding that further checks revealed that the plants were suffering from worm root rot.
If the worse had not already occurred, Chu Boon said melons growing healthy on the plants started to shrink and the insides of the fruit literally dropped out. He later discovered that this was caused by fruit flies which had “injected” their eggs into the fruits at the early stage of formation.
All these challenges have however made Chu Boon and his team more determined to learn from their shortcomings and improve them for the next planting which is already in progress.
“There’s an old Chinese saying, to grow a tree, first you must take care of its roots; To take care of its roots, first you must take care of the soil.”
“We need to keep insects that get attracted to our plants away. A mild dose of pesticide will be used at the early stages of planting and we will also set up fruit fly traps,” he said.
He added that the use of foliar fertilisers will also help keep the leaves of the plants healthy to ward off any possibility of fungus infections.
Chu Boon is confident and enthusiastic about this coming season’s planting. He hopes to have a bountiful harvest and to welcome visitors to enjoy the sight of rock melons growing along the rows at the farm.
Visitors can also visit the greenhouse located beside the rock melon farm which is now propagating vegetables using the hydroponic system.