07/05/06 — Melons are prime for plucking

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Melons are prime for plucking

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on July 5, 2006 1:49 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- The heavy rains that have bashed Wayne County recently could be good for Jacob Odom's watermelon crop.

Now, all he needs is a little more heat, he says.

Some of the melons he grows could be in local stores after July 10 marked with Graham Farms Melon Sales stickers, but most of the 150-acre crop is shipped up and down the East Coast as far as Florida and New York.

Laborers are scheduled to arrive from Georgia July 10 and start bringing the melons out of the fields and into the shed for binning into large boxes. They should be really rolling by July 15, Odom said.

The melons are about eight pounds now. And when they come off the vines, the seedless ones will weigh about 15 pounds.

"But the week after July 4 everybody's eaten up on them," said Odom. The season begins in May down in Florida, but he said it's hard for North Carolina growers to have their crop ready by the July 4 holiday.

Odom has loved growing watermelons ever since he helped his grandfather in the garden behind his house. Back then, the big melons were popular. They would grow up to 24 pounds in those days, Odom said.

He said he has been interested in growing vegetables since he was a child, but even when he was growing potatoes for market, there was always a 12-acre watermelon patch in his field.

Eight years ago, the watermelon patch grew to 80 acres, and that number has increased every year since, Odom said.

About 75 percent of Odom's melons are seedless, and 25 percent seeded. The seedless ones came out about three years ago, but Odom said he personally likes the seeded ones better.

"They're sweeter," he said. "I like to cut down the middle and eat the heart out of it and throw the rest away. And about the time we get done binning watermelons, I'm about tired of them."

He said while they're binning the watermelons they have to taste-test them in the fields, "and by the fall, they all taste the same."

He will start thinking about watermelons again next February, when he gets more seeds to start in the greenhouses in March. He transplants them in mid-April, and they take about 80 days to ripen.

The season continues until Sept. 15, when Odom switches his melons from bins to little cartons. And he has about 40 acres that will be ready in time for Labor Day.

"We had a cool spring, and that delayed us a little," he said.

The recent heavy rains have been good for the melons growing in the more sandy soil.

Those growing in the heavier soils could suffer some "belly rot, " but he won't see that for another week or 10 days if it happens.

"If it turns out real hot, it should be good," he said. "Watermelons need a little moisture and 90-degree weather. They can't stand 110 degrees."

Some years you can sell the seeded melons, and some years you can't, Odom said. The seeds cost more. Instead of $50 an acre for the fruits with seeds, Odom said he spends $250 on an acre for the seedless melons.

And this year he has planted some of those little "personal" watermelons, which should be in the stores this fall. These are popular with people in cities and in apartments where the refrigerators are small.

"People want the little ones so they can cut and eat them and be done with it," said Odom, who remembers how the huge ones used to take up a lot of space. "The old Jubilees would average 50 pounds and could fill up a fridge and about break the shelf."