Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Mystery of the Watermelons

It seems that St. Benard Parish, which was almost completed destroyed by the storm surge up the MRGO, is bursting out in watermelons.

"I've never seen anything like this before," Dr. Ron Strahan of the LSU Ag Center as told WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge after he surveyed the watermelon infestation.

The fruit, which is normally planted in April, has been sprouting up all over St. Bernard Parish ever since Katrina, due in part to unusually high temperatures.

While the good doctor may be mystified, some research turns up gardeners who aren't. The watermelon seeds were likely present in untreated or partially treated sewage. In , just east of , the sewage likely spilled during the complete innundation of the parish.

The use of treated sewage--henceforth to be called "biosolids"-- is being promoted as a fertilizer, to be used like animal manure. Some early adopters on had some interesting results.

"I put some sewage sludge on an ornamental garden one year. I got a laugh, wall to wall tomato plants with a few cantalope and watermelon thrown in. I just left them for the frost to kill, there was no way I could pull them all," one reported.

While funny, it is also interesting, if not disturbing. The distribution of watermelons may correspond with the distribution of spilled sewage.

My own experience with this is that all the cucurbits - melons, squash, cucumbers, etc. - as well as tomatoes have seeds that resist composting. We found this out when a load of compost spread on a lawn produced a bumper crop of vegetables and fruit.

They also pass through one's digestive tract relatively unscathed. In the case of sewage treatment, there would have had to have been a lot of people eating watermelon seeds in the couple of months prior to the hurricane to have that number of seeds in the system.

The garbage stream is more likely the source of the seeds. Since August is a good watermelon month, a lot of seeds would have gone into the garbage. Lots of garbage spread everywhere when landfills and the like are flooded. Not that garbage is any less toxic than sewage... It's probably worse in some ways. Take your choice: diseases or poisons.
Not uncommon around New Orleans either -- but I'm glad you mentioned it -- one of the bizarre little details.

Steelmare - nice explanation. Thanks.
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