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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HOW ONE NEW PRODUCT IS MAKING FARMING EASIER

March 30th, 2015 by The Watermelon Guy

I was raised in a pretty rural region of Pennsylvania, and I even spent a few summers helping on my cousin’s dairy farm. But that’s pretty much where my farming experience ends. I definitely don’t have a green thumb (remember my failed attempt to grow a watermelon?), but my limited interaction with farmers gives me a great appreciation for all the hard work they do to grow the fruits and vegetables so many of us take for granted.

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Another thing I can appreciate is any equipment, products or practices that make life easier for farmers. Because, let’s face it, those hard-working men and women put in some pretty long hours. One of those products is something called DegriFilm, and it’s made by a company called EcoPoly Solutions.

Oftentimes, farmers of crops (including watermelon) will cover the soil with a plastic mulch covering. Even casual gardeners will sometimes use plastic, which works well to keep weeds and pests at bay. The only problem with plastic, however, is that it has to be removed from the ground after it’s served its purpose. And when you’re a farmer with hundreds or thousands of acres of land, that process can get a little time-consuming…and expensive.

That’s where DegriFilm comes in.

After DegriFilm is on the ground, it provides all of the protection of standard plastic mulch, but here’s the kicker: it never needs to be removed and disposed of. That’s because DegriFilm is biodegradable. And when it breaks down naturally, it converts itself into CO2, water and biomass to feed the soil and make it healthy and ready for next year’s crop.

It also saves money. According to the DegriFilm website, it saves between $100 and $200 per acre. Again, when you’ve several hundred acres, that savings can really add up.

What can farmers do with all of that extra money? They can buy better farm equipment, for starters. Or hire a few extra farmhands, which means the farmers might get a few extra hours off at the end of the day. Or maybe the farmers can take a vacation to Hawaii. They definitely deserve a little toes-in-the-sand time off, that’s for sure.

UP NEXT: A WHAT flavored watermelon?!

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