Medialess Sweet Melon: Demeter Farms - Banting , Malaysia
Demeter Farms Pty Ltd in Banting is located an hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur. This farm has made a remarkable achievement in modern hydroponics by succeeded in producing sweet melons of consistent sweetness of brix 12 to 15 without any growing medium in the AutoPot™ System.
 
This 5 acre farm has 14 units of 850 sq. m rain shelters ("hothouses") housing 28,000 units of single 12-inch AutoPot™ Hydrotray growing units. Each AutoPot™ unit is planted with one sweet melon plant bearing only one fruit. Another 200 sq. m rain shelter is dedicated for raising seedlings.
 
Their current production is 2.5 tons of fruits per week with an average fruit weight of 1.5 kg each tailored to meet consumer's fruit size preference. Fruits that are too big or too small are considered off-grades and will not fetch premium prices (4 times higher than soil grown). Each crop cycle is 65 days for Kuning Jati variety. A new crop is planted in the same AutoPot™ units within 7 days (after clearing, cleaning & sterilizing) from harvest. There is quite a bit of skill involved in controlling the size of fruits to fall within the preferred weight range of 1.3 to 1.7 kg. Doing away with the bricks or any growing medium is a real positive for this farm, it not only saves money on acquiring the growing medium, it also has a tremendous reduction in labour costs involved with the supply and removal or recycling of the growing medium particularly those that are heavy, such as broken bricks.
 
I am very proud of Mr. Lee and his team's performance. Especially considering Mr. Lee and his partner's background - semi-retired entrepreneurs in advertising and having no prior knowledge whatsoever in farming, were able to transform this "troubled" farm into a very successful AutoPot™ Melon hydroponic business within a year! Above all, they discovered how to grow top quality sweet melons without any growing medium, that is, doing away with broken bricks.
Congratulations! What an achievement.
 
What can we learn from this story?
1. You do not need to have any prior experience in farming to be successful with commercial AutoPot™ hydroponic crop production. All you need is passion and dedication.

2. Having an agricultural background does not guarantee success with this form of farming. As in this case, this farm was in "trouble" for not being able to produce melons to required standards despite being managed by an agricultural graduate. Mr. Lee and his partner, without any past experience in farming, turned the farm around within 12 months to full production capacity (2.5 tons per week) producing top quality melons with guaranteed sweetness.

3. If you are able to produce good consistent quality melons, you will be able to sell your fruits at a premium. These fruits are enjoying good premium at retail prices of Rm10 (equivalent to Aus $3.50) per kg as compared to Rm2.50 (equivalent to Aus $1.00) per kg. for locally soil grown crop. The farm is not able to produce enough to satisfy demand.
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Black netting 50% shade rolled up after use. It is needed for the first one to two weeks immediately after planting.
Melon seeds sown in Jiffy pellets received capillary watering from below by the AutoPot™ CapPlus tables. These seedlings were 7 days old and ready for transplanting.
Melon plant just one week after planting.
Using broken bricks as the growing medium
Each unit of the 850sq.m rain-shelter is being fed by gravity from these two 2,500 litre tanks which sit on a meter high metal stand. Nutrients were pre-mixed into the tank on a weekly basis.
Rainwater is directed to the water storage tank. The heavy and frequent rainfalls in Malaysia ensures an adequate supply of good quality freshwater year round.
Climate control within the rain-shelter is very basic. Two units of the above fans to every 850 sq. M shed for air movement.
Melon plants approximately 3 weeks from planting.
Melon plants approximately 4 to 5 week from planting.
Plants 5 to 6 weeks from planting with one flower per plant hand pollinated.
Melon fruit about 2 weeks from pollination.
Neem extracts used for controlling diseases (mainly powdery mildew)
& some pests. Mature plants with fruits ready for picking in two
weeks' time.Plants 5 to 6 weeks from planting with one flower per plant hand pollinated.
Mr. Lee's routine - checking crop on a daily basis for early signs of "problems".
Note the consistency of the crop.
Melons were graded and packed (8 fruits per carton).