Gilbert Miller, can turn on his office compute and download a three dimensional picture of soil moisture and nutrients from a series of watermelon test plots.

The Clemson University Extension vegetable specialist, who is based in Blackville, S.C., hopes to use the information to determine the factors that cause hollow-heart in melons.

“I have four solar-powered sensor stands, which collect information on soil conditions and another that collects weather data,” Miller says. “Every two hours, they trigger a cell phone call to a server in New Jersey, where EarthTec Solutions puts the data in chart form so I can access it on the Internet.”

The next step is to run a fiber optic line to the field, so he can connect directly to the Internet without having to use a cell phone connection.

Miller is joined by a handful of South Carolina vegetable producers who already use wireless technology to monitor field conditions.

“It helps them control costs and produce higher quality crops,” Miller says. “They save on fertilizer because they apply the right amount of water and don’t wash the nutrients below the root zone.”

Sensors supplied by EarthTec monitor moisture and salinity levels vertically and horizontally at depths of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 inches. Miller has four treatment plots, one for each sensor array.

One receives the standard Extension recommendations for fertigation quantity and timing. The other three are deliberately shortchanged of nutrients, water or both. They then receive an overdose to see which triggers hollow-heart.

Learn more about Miller’s research at the Watermelon and Vegetable Field Day, July 12, at Edisto Research and Education Center.

The field day begins at 9 a.m. at the office complex at the Edisto REC. An indoor educational session begins at 9:15. Field tours begin at 10 a.m., followed by lunch at noon.

The Edisto REC is on U.S. Highway 78, 3 miles west of Blackville in Barnwell County. For more information, contact Gilbert at (803) 284-3343, ext. 273, or e-mail him at gmllr@clemson.edu.