Melons, Poop, and the Cows That Make It

formerly_creativeguyMarch 4, 2014

I've got what I believe to be a surefire spot for my new melon patch... but I'd like to get a few opinions to be on the safe side. My neighbor keeps 10 or so cows in the field next to my property, and I'm eyeing a sunny spot along the fence near their water trough for my melons and squash. The cows all congregate to drink and poop right there at the trough... been in the same spot for years. Seems like a home run, right? Any issues with the location? Too much poop? Would it still be a good idea to fertilize in the actual planting area? And, odd as it may seem... are the cows any kind of pest in this case? Would a cow show any interest in melons as a food source if I trellis them on the fence? Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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There are a few concerns about your potential endeavor. The cows most likely won't eat the melons but curiosity and their quest for shade and comfort might result in your vines being trampled, laid upon and mutilated. Then there is the food safety issue. Cantaloupes have been implicated in food borne diseases in the past so consider that.

Since you like the potential fertilizer source why not ask the farmer if you could collect a few wheelbarrow loads of the cow patties, compost them, and work the compost into a garden plot isolated from the cows. You'll be better off without all the side issues.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 9:03AM
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I'd be concerned about your melons receiving a constant source of high nitrogen from the poop, which will cause them to develop white hearts.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 9:58AM
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Animal manure typically is not high in nitrogen. Chicken manure might be the highest.
I known that squash thrive from nitrogen applications and assume that melons would do the same.

Here is a link that might be useful: manure

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 10:12AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

I guess I would be worried about the freshness of the manure and the potentially harmful pathogens it might contain. Infection is usually a numbers game, so if you are exposed to a small amount of say, salmonella (and we often are), then no biggie. But if you are exposed to an extremely large amount of salmonella then bad news, game over, call the hospital! Generally you want your manure composted (from a health standpoint) because it reduces the number of potential pathogens so that you are less likely to get an illness from baddies in the manure that come into contact with the veg you are planning on eating. It sounds like the cows would be producing fresh manure next to your melons all summer. I don't know what might be in fresh cow manure that would be bad for us, but I know that there would be a lot of it! I would put the melons elsewhere and bring the composted manure to them instead, also.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 11:03AM
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theforgottenone1013(MI zone 5b/6a)

I'm with bmoser and sunnibel7. I wouldn't want fresh manure to be anywhere near what I'm going to eat.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 11:26AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Seems like a home run, right? Any issues with the location? Too much poop?

Sorry but no home run but a strike out instead.

Several issues with the location as mentioned above and especially with all the fresh manure in the area. Well composted manures only - 90-120 days composted - around food crops.

Recall the recent e.coli deaths and hospitalizations from melons contaminated by manure run-off not to mention the subsequent lawsuits?

While I agree that manures are relatively low in nitrogen when compared to synthetic fertilizers, cows also pee where they poop and urine is very high in N. Still that it not the primary concern.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 11:45AM
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Thanks for the thoughts, all! I'll file this one under "too good to be true" and move a bit further from the herd. As always, great to have the community available for discussion.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 1:10PM
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There is a school of medical thought that states that being in contact with bacteria is actually good for you (google, for example, the coolinginflammation blog), lots of peer reviewed paper showing that it is so. However, the bacteria of CAFO (grain fed) animals can be nasty indeed, although from your description these may be pastured cows, which do not have any E. Coli of the wrong type. Bacteria will also travel easily inside cucurbits plants.

If you wish to use all that manure without running risks, and like me prefer bacteria from dog kisses and sauerkrauts, you could a) plant winter squash instead, which will be cooked or b) plant fruit trees, since bacteria do not travel through wood or cambium. Make sure the cows and the plants have a fence between them.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 2:19PM
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I am pretty sure the cows will eat the vines long before you get any melons. And, if somehow that doesn't happen, the cows will eat the melons. I don't see why they wouldn't.


    Bookmark   March 4, 2014 at 9:45PM
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