20 Dec 2017
Paving the way for hydroponically grown melons in Australia
Fourth generation farmer, Anthony Rehbein, owns One Little Farm in Bundaberg, Queensland. In partnership with his wife Kate, their farm has traditionally produced watermelons and ginger in the open field on a commercial scale. Now they have swapped the open field for a greenhouse, paving the way for hydroponically grown melons in Australia.
In 2017 Anthony and his wife decided to change direction and move into protected cropping, selling the fields and moving to an established farm with four greenhouses. “There’s more reliability in protected cropping and we can ensure the plants we’re producing are top quality,” Anthony said. In addition to growing ginger, eggplant and cocktail tomatoes hydroponically, Anthony decided to experiment with a range of melons. “I don’t know of anyone else in Australia who is growing melons this way.”
Alongside his dedicated team and daughter Lilly, who is passionate about science and agriculture, Anthony has learnt about the practice through trial and error and by watching online videos. In consultation with Rijk Zwaan Crop Specialist, Maurice Schiavon, Anthony planted the watermelon variety Gatinho, the rockmelon varieties Santa Monica Beach and Rangipo, the honeydew variety Gladial and the Piel de Sapo variety Ricura.
Planting of roughly 500 square metres took place in September on different systems including vertical, trellis, string and even on the ground. Anthony used native bees for pollination. “At first I was quite skeptical because I couldn’t see the fruit setting, but they set earlier on and very late, I did grow them on the ground in the dirt, but I found that due to the cooling effect and airflow it was much better growing on the string vertically," he said.
Achieving a better melon
Anthony has recently wrapped up the trial and sold every melon locally. His farm was featured in a video on ABC Wide Bay. Overall, he is pleased with the results and plans to run another trial in winter. “We achieved better quality and better looking melons with no dirt and no bald spots. The rockmelons were perfectly netted and the honeydews had a completely even gold tone. What we’re really looking for is unique variety, something that we can offer the consumer that is different,” Anthony said. “With the stripy watermelon for example, their appearance is really good.”
A better experience for consumers
While indoor vertical farming of melons is popular in Asian countries, this practice is not common in Australia. Anthony’s trial has proven that the Australian climate can produce high sugar and top quality melons. According to Maurice, it was really exciting to see this experiment. “Anthony is focusing on producing high quality melons and selling to niche markets. There’s a lot of interest in this practice and it will generate a following – consumers will know that if you see a melon with Anthony’s sticker on it, you’re going to get a good experience.”