For those who have been thinking about entering Thomson's annual Tom Watson Watermelon Festival watermelon-growing contest, time is running out to plant seeds for melons to mature.
"You can plant them anytime in the month of May," said Dexter Rhodes, the landscaping manager for the Watson-Brown Foundation. "But it takes 87-90 days to maturity, so they need to be planted right away for the festival. Every year is different, but that's an average."
The Aug. 2 contest is only for the Tom Watson variety of melons, and free seeds are available at McDuffie Feed and Seed on the Augusta Highway or at the Watson-Brown Foundation at 310 Tom Watson Way.
Although the contest is open to anyone in Georgia and South Carolina, registration is required when the seeds are obtained to verify that only certified Tom Watson Watermelon seeds are used.
According to the foundation's Web site, the Watson watermelon originated circa 1900 when a Florida farmer sent Tom Watson an envelope of melon seeds that he had named in Watson's honor.
After a few growing seasons, it was discovered that the melons grew large, averaging 25 pounds, and sometimes exceeding 70 pounds. The melons also grow a very thick rind, which makes them ideal for shipping long distances, according to the Web site. But Rhodes has his own ideas of the advantage.
"They're huge, and they're very good for pickles," Rhodes said.
The heaviest Tom Watson melon wins $300 at the festival. Second place wins $200 and $75 goes to the largest melon grown by a "farmer" under the age of 18. There is no fee to enter the contest.
Rhodes grows about 2,000 melons each year for the festival, which boasts an all-you-can-eat melon buffet, free melons to take home, and every size and shape possible for use in games and contests. His melon garden spreads across almost two acres this year, he said.
For optimum growth benefits, Rhodes suggests planting in full sun on seed beds that are mounded two to five inches off the ground for drainage and warmth. He said homeowners planting in their yard can get good results using a black, plastic ground cover with holes poked through for the seeds. He said the holes, or seed hills, should be six to eight feet apart and the rows can be six to 10 feet wide.
Wheat straw makes the best mulch, according to Rhodes. He also suggests planting in a sandy loam soil, "but not too sandy, unless you've got tons and tons and tons of water.
"The best thing is planting in full sun, away from the squirrels," he said. "Those little devils ate a portion of my melons last year and destroyed the melon. So plant away from a tree line."
For more information, call the Watson-Brown Foundation at (706) 595-8886.
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