Christopher Kent knows a thing or two about growing giant watermelons. Mainly because the 350-pound Carolina Cross he grew in 2013 is officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest watermelon (that’s Chris with it on the right). Chris grows giant watermelon every year, and this year he’s agreed to let us tag along in a series of monthly blog entries showcasing his attempt to set a new world record.
The giant watermelons are grown at Chris’s home in the small town of Sevierville, Tennessee, about 15 minutes outside of Knoxville. He’s been growing watermelon since 2008 and, from the beginning, he’s had a natural green thumb. Just two years later, in 2010, Chris produced a 290-pound world record holder and he hasn’t looked back since.
CHOOSING THE SEEDS
The process for growing the world’s largest watermelon starts with the seeds, but not just any seeds. Chris (and other giant watermelon growers like him) use seeds from the Carolina Cross variety of watermelon and only from specific watermelons that have reached gargantuan proportions. In some ways, growing the world’s largest watermelon is a lot like breeding a champion race horse — who the parents are makes all the difference.
“There are many seeds to choose from. Always too many it seems,” said Chris about the process. “Some are my own seed lines. Some are from other great growers from around the country.”
The seeds are named according to the weight of the watermelon they came from and the last name of the grower who produced it. The seeds that made the cut this year included the 291 Kent (the mother of the current 350-pound record holder), the champion 350 Kent, a 199 Mudd from a grower in Kentucky, a 169 Cantrell from a fellow Tennessee grower, and a 251 Kent from Chris’s 2014 crop.
“The 199 Mudd is from one of Frank Mudd’s watermelons. It’s a very good, proven seed,” said Chris. “The 169 Cantrell has a lot of potential, but it’s unproven. We’ll see how that one does.”
PLANTING THE SEEDS
The seeds are soaked in water for an hour and then planted in potting mix. For Chris, that part of the process started in mid-April. They’ll spend the first few days indoors in a warm environment of about 90 degrees, and the seeds will sprout in three to four days. Once they’ve sprouted, they’ve leave Chris’s home and head outside.
“They need to enjoy the sun and get acclimated as much as possible to the outdoors,” said Chris. “They’ll spend their days outside and the nights inside since our mid-spring here in Tennessee was kind of cool.”
Chris brought the sprouts inside and outside for about two weeks (that’s the 291 Kent above after it was transplanted outdoors). At the beginning of May, the weather turned warm in Seviersville, and the tiny future giants were planted outside to begin their journey toward hopefully growing into the biggest watermelon in the world.
Stay tuned for another update next month about Chris’s watermelons. In our next blog entry, we’ll talk with Chris about the daily care of the plants and his process for identifying which ones might be potential future record-holders.
UP NEXT: A fantastic watermelon salad