Watermelon was something we ate on the Fourth of July. We bought it at the store. It wasn’t something we raised ourselves. Thanks to RVing in southern Georgia, I’ve now seen how thousands of sweet, juicy watermelons are grown, from preparing the field through harvest.
My only previous experience with watermelon growing was when I was a
child of five or six years old. We had a feeble attempt of a garden in
our back yard. There were four of us children running loose in the yard,
and we all had access to the garden. We were constantly pulling onions,
or carrots to see if they were ready. I don’t believe we ever saw a
carrot bigger around than a pencil. The onions were better, but none
made it past the size of a ping-pong ball. I can remember a watermelon
about the size of a baseball. There was never a melon large enough to
think about eating.
I also remember watermelon vines growing wild near the deck. We, the cousins, neighbors, and friends were instructed to spit the seeds there. Yes, all watermelon had big, dark seeds in those days.
Fast forward 50-some years, and here we are in southern Georgia. Our motorhome is parked about 100 yards from a 50-acre field of Troubadour seedless watermelon. We were here before they were planted, and we’ve watched the whole process.
The renter started by preparing the field around the last week of March.
They leveled, tilled, and plowed deeply to turn the cotton stalks
under. Then, they used what looked to be a giant rototiller to break up
and condition the soil.
Next, a special piece of equipment applied fertilizer and laid down a three-foot wide strip of biodegradable black plastic, tucking the edges under so it was secured. These strips were about six feet apart. Between every nine strips there was a driving lane.
Another piece of specialized equipment ran down the rows of plastic and punched evenly spaced holes into it. It applied water to the holes, to give the new plants a good start. Twenty or so people followed almost immediately, planting the three-to-four-inch melon plants. They walked the field, planting the watermelon plants by hand.
It took a week or so before I could tell the plants had started to grow. When they did, however, there was noticeable growth every day.
Every Monday and Thursday, two
inspectors checked the field and reported back to the grower. Within
hours, a sprayer might show up, a fertilizer spreader might appear, or
someone would turn on the center pivot irrigation system.
With all this care, the vines grew, blossoms appeared, and small melons started to form at the shriveled blossoms. The watermelons were first tiny, then as big as golf balls, and then became recognizable watermelon.
About three weeks before the 4th of July, crews showed up to harvest.
This was all done manually. The crews would select the ripe melon, cut
the vine, and toss the fruit to another crew member. This continued on
until it was tossed up into a modified school bus and stacked securely.
There were at least four crews loading at a time, with extra buses ready to pull into place when one was filled. When the buses left the field, they went to the melon shed where they were unloaded, washed, graded, and loaded onto semis to head for northern markets. After taking possibly 40-50 bus loads of watermelon from the field, I could hardly tell any melon were missing.
After the first harvest, the irrigation was turned on to revitalize the stressed vines. The watering, spraying, and fertilizing continued.
From the beginning, I don’t believe more than four days passed without someone doing something in the field. The field will be harvested five or six times. Near the end of July, the field will be tilled under and prepared for the next crop, cotton.
Being a northern boy, I saw corn, beans, sunflowers, wheat, and other small grains being grown. I never grew up with watermelon fields.
I found the whole process of preparing the field, planting the melon plants, caring for them, and harvesting them interesting. This is one of the reasons RVing is such a wonderful way of life for us. Wherever we go, there is always something new and interesting to learn.
Coleen, the RVing editor's note: My husband, Bob Nilles, wrote this article while we are RVing in southern Georgia. We are near Crisp County, which is the number one watermelon producing county in the nation. Bob left out one important part of watching the progression of this watermelon patch – eating the melons! Red-fleshed, sweet, and juicy, the melons taste awfully good on these hot Georgia summer days.