GROWING THE WORLD’S LARGEST WATERMELON (PART SIX): BRINGING HOME THE GOLD

October 24th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

It’s been a busy year for Chris “Superman” Kent, the watermelon grower from Sevierville, Tennessee who holds the Guinness World Record for the largest watermelon ever grown (a whopping 350 pounds in 2013). Chris has been kind enough to share stories about this year’s crop of world record contenders in a six-part series of blog entries here on What About Watermelon.Breyers_logo_2009

When we last caught up with Chris, he had harvested four of his watermelons for four competitions (each melon can only appear in one competition). The weights were impressive — 220, 225, 231 and 238 pounds — and were enough to secure three second place finishes and one third place finish. But two of the biggest competitions were still to come. Would a blue ribbon be in Chris’s future?

When we last spoke, you had just returned from a competition in Elkin, NC and were getting ready for competitions in Allardt, TN and the North Carolina State Fair. How did those competitions go for you?

They went great! Allardt was a cold rainy weekend, but I won first place with a 295 pound watermelon (pictured above). That was the largest this year and the largest ever weighed at their site.

The North Carolina State Fair was 10 days later, and I thought the day would never come. First, I got the melon loaded in the car for its trip to the fair. (Picture below.)

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I knew it was a big melon and had a chance at the title. It measured almost the exact same size as the one the week before, but you never know until you put it on the scale. Then, after an entire season of waiting, I had to wait a little longer because they weigh the largest fruit last. But the wait was worth it, because my final watermelon of the season tipped the scales at 302 pounds and another first place prize!

You didn’t set a new world record this year, but are you happy with how the year turned out in terms of what you were able to grow?

Yes, I’m very happy with the season. I grew the number one and number two melons in the world this year, so I met my goal, even if it wasn’t a world record. Maybe next year!

What’s the off-season look like for you? What sort of preparations will take place during the winter?

The first task is cleaning up the watermelon patch. I have to get everything pulled up and the soil tilled. I’ll leave it lay for the winter and let the freeze and thaw work to kill any bugs. Over the winter I’ll package up seeds from my biggest watermelons and send them to other growers. I also send seeds to the grower clubs that have auctions with the best pumpkin, watermelon, and tomato seeds to raise money for the next season’s weigh-offs.

Believe it or not, some of the best pumpkin seeds can go for $500 to $1,000 PER SEED. Watermelons are a little lower — somewhere in the $50-$100 range for a package of 4-10 seeds.

After all that’s done, I’m looking forward to relaxing this winter. Thanks so much for letting me do this blog series with you. It’s been a lot of fun, and I hope the readers enjoyed it and maybe learned something.

REMEMBER: All comments left on the blog this month are entered to win our October prize — the watermelon welcome mat — so comment as often as you’d like!

UP NEXT: A “COOL” WATERMELON TREAT

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GROWING THE WORLD’S LARGEST WATERMELON (PART FIVE): HARVESTING AND COMPETING

October 1st, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

When we last spoke with Chris Kent—who holds the Guinness World Record for the largest watermelon (350 pounds in 2013)—he was heading into the final full month of the growing season and getting his giant watermelons ready for the competition circuit.

Here’s an update from Chris on what he was up to in September and what lies ahead this month.

HAVE YOU HARVESTED THE WATERMELONS YET? WHEN WAS THAT DONE, OR WHEN WILL YOU DO THAT?

Yes! I’ve been picking the watermelons since the end of August. As each competition comes around, I pick a melon and take it to the weigh-off site. So far, I’ve been to a competition in Cullman, Alabama. That watermelon (below) weighed in at 220 pounds and finished second overall. I donated that watermelon to a local distillery for a display promoting their watermelon moonshine.

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On September 9, I took another watermelon (below) to the Tennessee State Fair and placed second with a weight of 225 pounds. Breyers_logo_2009

Also in September, I traveled to a farm called Bear Wallow in Kentucky for a competition and placed second again with a watermelon weighing 231 pounds. I also just returned from Elkin, North Carolina. The competition there was pretty tough, and even though my melon weighed 238 pounds, I still finished third.

HOW WAS THIS GROWING SEASON FOR YOU? ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE RESULTS?

It’s hard to say. My biggest watermelons are yet to come. The weather has been very good to me this year. Many top growers were not so lucky and have had poor or even no melons.


HOW DO YOU DETERMINE THE BEST TIME TO HARVEST THE WATERMELONS? 

I usually harvest when they’re done growing and also when the different competitions are. I try to time them just right, but if you’re off by a week or so it’s usually no problem.

I want the watermelon to gain as much as possible, and as soon as you pick it, it starts to lose weight, which is why I usually pick the watermelon the night before a competition. Some of the competitions are really close. I lost the Kentucky competition by ONE POUND. If I had one more growing day, I might have won!

WHAT’S NEXT? WHAT SHOWS OR COMPETITIONS ARE COMING UP? HOW MANY COMPETITIONS WILL YOU ENTER? 

I have two more competitions on the schedule. One in Allardt, Tennessee on October 3 and the North Carolina State Fair on October 13. I’ve been close in most of my competitions so far, so I hope to get a win in one of those!

UP NEXT: OUR OCTOBER PRIZE

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GROWING THE WORLD’S LARGEST WATERMELON (PART FOUR): ENTERING THE HOME STRETCH

August 20th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

It’s been a long summer for Chris Kent, the man who holds the Guinness World Record for the largest watermelon. His watermelons have endured cloudy weather, mice, hungry horses and all sorts of other obstacles, but the final month of the growing season is upon us.

Chris took a break from tending to his champion fruit to answer a few questions about what’s happened in his watermelon patch over the past month.

When we last checked in with you, the watermelons were close to 120 pounds. How are they looking 30 days later?

It’s been a hectic 30 days. There has been a lot of time spent feeding, watering, and spraying the plants. A few of my plants didn’t produce melons of the size and growth needed for competition, so those will be for eating.

For eating? Do giant watermelon taste just as good as regular-sized watermelon?

Oh yeah, they taste great! And they’re bigger, so there’s a lot more of them to go around!

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Have you been able to determine which specific melon will be your biggest?

It looks like the race is down to two melons (above). They’re both from a cross I made last season between two seeds from 300-pound melons. They’ve been growing well and are close in estimated weights. One is ahead by about 20 pounds, but I’ll have to wait until the end to see which will be larger, because a lot can happen over the next month.

Once you determine your potential world record holder, what happens with the other watermelon? Do you focus all of your attention of the biggest melon, or do you keep tending to the other melons, too?

I have five main weigh-offs that I attend each fall from early-September to mid-October and each melon can only be entered in one weigh-off, so I need five good melons for competition season. For that reason, I keep caring for all watermelons that show promise. Too many times I’ve had one that I didn’t think would do well, but they come back and surprise me. But, yes, the biggest and best watermelon does get the best and first care!

What’s coming up in the next 30 days (mid-August through mid-September) for the watermelons? When will you harvest them?

I’ll still be doing everything I can to add pounds and keep them growing and healthy for the next month. The main weigh-off is on September 19 in Kentucky, so I’ll harvest one of the watermelon for that. There’s also an earlier weigh-off on September 8 at the Tennessee State Fair in Nashville that I sometimes attend.

At this point, I don’t think I’ll break my world record with this year’s crop, but I think I’m still in the running for the 2015 world title. I don’t want to say what my biggest watermelons currently weigh, because many growers keep their weights a secret. There’s a lot of competition in this game, and we don’t want to show our cards before the big showdown!

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GROWING THE WORLD’S LARGEST WATERMELON (PART THREE): THEY GROW UP SO FAST

July 21st, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

You know how parents always say that their kids grow up too fast? One day, they’re barely walking and, before you know it, they’re off to college. The same is true when it comes to growing giant watermelons. Only they don’t go to college — they go to the state fair and win blue ribbons.

When we last talked to Chris Kent — the man who holds the Guinness World Record for the largest watermelon (350 pounds in 2013) — his current crop hadn’t even sprouted gumball-sized fruit. One month later? Well, take a look below, and see for yourself.

HOW ARE THE WATERMELONS DOING? HOW BIG ARE THE MELONS RIGHT NOW?

The watermelons are doing well! In our last blog entry, we were setting fruit on the plants, now — 30 days later — we have melons that are about 120 pounds. Here’s a recent picture with a gallon-sized milk jug for reference.

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HOW HAS THE WEATHER BEEN? IS IT A GOOD SEASON FOR WATERMELON GROWING?

We had one setback, with a week of cloudy, rainy weather that slowed the growth, but overall, the weather has been good, and the plants are growing well.

DO YOU HAVE TO WORRY YET ABOUT ANIMALS OR OTHER RISKS TO THE WATERMELON? IF SO, HOW ARE YOU PREVENTING IT?

Yes, I do. I’ve had problems in the past with rabbits and mice chewing on the plant vines. I once lost a vine with a melon on it due to a rabbit chewing it in half once it was too late to start over. A fellow grower told me to get some coyote urine from a hunting supply store to chase the rabbits away. Believe it or not, it works!

The mice don’t care about the coyote urine, though, so you have to catch them, and that takes time. It’s an all-season process. Luckily, this year has been good. I’ve only seen a few rabbits, and no damage.

WHAT SPECIFIC TACTICS DO YOU USE TO KEEP ANIMALS AWAY FROM THE PLANTS?Picture2

I have a fence around my entire patch to keep the big animals away. There are horses on one side that put their head over and eat my grass. They don’t eat melon vines, but they will eat watermelons, so I have to keep the melons out of their range. The old saying “the grass is greener on the other side” is true with me, since my grass gets the water runoff from my melons and is bigger and greener!

WHAT’S NEXT? WHAT WILL HAPPEN BETWEEN NOW AND OUR NEXT UPDATE IN MID-AUGUST?

Over the next month, I’ll be settling into a maintenance role, keeping the plants happy and healthy. I have to spray each week for bugs and disease, and feed the plants. And, if it doesn’t rain, I keep them watered. I basically look for and prevent problems.

We still have two months of growth to get to the end, and if you lose one before it’s done growing, you won’t get a chance to have that winning melon. I have to cross the finish line to win, but, so far, things are looking good!

UP NEXT: A recipe that makes breakfast fun again

Remember: All comments left on the blog this month are entered to win our THREE weekly National Watermelon Month July prizes, so comment as often as you’d like! 

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Don’t forget to enter our 2015 Watermelon Carving Contest! We still need plenty of entries in the “Beginner” category, so all you new carvers should definitely enter for a chance to win. The deadline for entries is 11:59 PM on August 3. There are $4,000 in prizes and the first 25 entrants will receive a Dexas watermelon cutting board. Check out the official contest web page for categories, judging criteria and how to enter!

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GROWING THE WORLD’S LARGEST WATERMELON (PART TWO): DOING A BEE’S JOB

June 19th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

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Last month, I introduced you to Chris Kent, a man from Tennessee who has the greenest thumb in the world when it comes to growing giant watermelon. Chris earned that distinction because the 350-pound Carolina Cross that he grew in 2013 is the Guinness World Record-holder for the largest watermelon ever grown. (That’s him with the record-holder on the right.)

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Chris has agreed to let me tag along with a series of blog entries about his 2015 crop and chronicle his efforts to break that world record. A lot has happened in the past 30 days, and the watermelon plants have grown from a few tiny sprouts to a series of sprawling vines that are slowly taking over Chris’s backyard.

In the photo at the top of this entry, you can see the 291 Kent watermelon plant, which was photographed in the first blog entry. Chris describes this plant as “a great plant, with vines going in all directions.”

POLLINATING THE PLANTS

There are currently 10 plants that Chris is focusing his attention on. This past weekend, Chris started pollinating the flowers on the plants. Pollination usually occurs naturally by bees, which transport pollen from a male flower and spread it to a female flower. Championship watermelon growers like Chris, however, hand pollinate the flowers so that he can use pollen from only the highest quality male flowers.

To do that, Chris covers the female flower the night before and, when the flower opens the next morning, he pollinates it with pollen from a top-notch male flower. He then covers the female flower again, to prevent bees from bringing pollen in from other watermelon flowers. (Below is a picture of one of Chris’s female flowers that is open and read to be pollinated.)

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The pollination process has begun on some of Chris’s plants, but not all of them.

“Not all plants are ready to set fruit yet. I have to wait until the plant is large enough to bear fruit, because it’s not an easy process,” explained Chris. “Two weeks after the flower appears, the plant must be able to put on more than five pounds of weight per day on the watermelon. They grow very fast, and will be over 100 pounds before they are 30 days old.”

In the meantime, there’s plenty of daily upkeep. Chris trains the vines to go in various directions. “I don’t want them all bunched up,” said Chris. “I like to spread them out.” If there’s no rain and the weather is hot, the plants need to be watered daily. A full grown plant needs 20 gallons of water each day, in addition to plant food and soil amendments.

In next month’s blog entry, we’ll discuss how Chris keeps rabbits, mice and other critters away from his plants. We’ll also talk about how he determines which watermelon have Guinness  potential, and which ones to cut off the vine to give the biggest ones the best chance at becoming the next world record-holder.

UP NEXT: An interview with a watermelon carver

Remember, all comments left on the blog this month are entered to win our June prize – a set of watermelon dip bowls – so comment as often as you’d like! 

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