Necessity is called "the mother of invention." For Chris Schroeder of Green Isle, Minn., necessity took the form of unsightly, rotting cantaloupes.
Schroeder was a first-time gardener a few years ago when she got an unpleasant surprise while inspecting her produce. Many of the melons she had so carefully planted and tended had developed "one yucky side, with bugs and grubs," from lying on the ground.
"I didn't know you had to turn melons," she said.
Someone suggested setting her cantaloupes on cinderblocks, to get them off the ground. But the cinderblocks were heavy to haul, and sometimes her melons rolled off the flat surface of the blocks, breaking their stems.
"With the economy the way it's going, you hate to spend money to put in a garden and not reap the rewards," she said.
So the MnDOT snowplow operator got an idea: Why not create a lightweight support structure for heavy garden produce?
Backed by a loan from her mother, Schroeder had a mold made, then a prototype of her design, which includes drainage holes and a concave surface to cradle the melon.
Now her invention, RotNot, is available to other gardeners on her website, www.rotnot.net, and at several garden and farm-supply stores.
RotNot is designed to support cantaloupes, watermelons, muskmelons, pumpkins and squash -- "any kind of melon you have to turn," she said.
"When it rains, the water drains away, and you don't get belly rot," she said. RotNot also helps produce a uniformly appealing fruit or vegetable. "It's good for 4-H kids who do shows, because you get nice-looking produce for judging," she said.
Horticulturist Deb Brown, who hasn't used the product and was unfamiliar with it, said the concept had merit.
"It's not a bad idea for the back-yard gardener," she said, after the product was described to her. "In theory, it should work, although if you have good clean mulch under the fruit, I'm not sure it's absolutely necessary."
Bill Ulrich of Le Sueur, Minn., used several RotNots in his own large garden after Schroeder, a co-worker, gave him some to try. "I was a guinea pig," he said. He found that his RotNot-supported watermelons ripened without blemishes. "The watermelons didn't get worm marks. You get a cleaner-looking melon. There were no green spots in the bottom when I cut 'em open."
Will he use RotNot again this year? "Absolutely," he said. "I'll probably even buy more."
RotNot is manufactured in Faribault, Minn., of recycled plastic, and comes in four colors: yellow, blue, orange and clear. The cost for five is $12.99.
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784