Some folks grow watermelons for the table, and others grow them for the market. But there's a third, more elite, class of watermelon growers whose only concern is the scale. These growers strive for the blue ribbon at the fair or maybe even the world record. Allie Collier, 79, of Angier, came close to cinching the latter with a 252.25-pound whopper he grew in 2005, which took top honors at the North Carolina State Fair. The current world record is 268.8 pounds. An up-and-comer on the giant watermelon scene is Larry C. Boyette, 56, of Kenly. In 2008, he grew a 163-pounder that snagged first place at the State Farmer's Market's annual competition. He also took the blue ribbon at the 2007 State Fair.
Growing giant watermelons can be an exciting venture, whether you want to win a contest or just impress the neighbors. As the pros will tell you, growing a prizewinning watermelon isn't easy—they dote on their watermelons like children. Though Boyette keeps his particular fertilizer formula a secret, he is generous with advice for anyone who wants to try his or her hand in the giant game. Here are a few tips for beginners.
- Choose a variety of seed specific for producing giant fruits. Boyette recommends 'Carolina Cross.'
- Boyette starts his seeds in the greenhouse in mid-March to get a jump on the planting season. But by May, the ground should be warm enough for direct sowing. You mustn't tarry. From start to finish, producing a giant melon is a 120-day job.
- You'll need about a 20-by-20-foot space per plant. Make sure the area is free of weeds or grass. Well-rotted manure and cottonseed meal are good organic soil amendments.
- A watermelon vine will produce several melons, but you'll need to cull all but one fruit if you're aiming for that lone scale-buster. That way, all the nutrients are reserved for it.
- Fertilize plants weekly. Boyette says it can be as simple as an all-purpose fertilizer, about 3 tablespoons diluted in 2 gallons of water. He also adds a little extra nitrogen. But don't overdo it—more is not better.
- Keep plants well watered but not waterlogged.
- Boyette recommends spraying vines with a fungicide about every 10 days. You'll also need to look out for and control squash beetles.
- Though watermelon vines need sun, the maturing melon can benefit from filtered light. To shade the melon and to keep crows and deer away, Boyette constructs a wood frame about 3–4 feet long and 30 inches high and tops it with a piece of burlap. He does this when the melon is about 15–18 inches long. He also puts a piece of plastic foam underneath the melon to protect it from rotting.