HIGH YIELD WATERMELONS
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BACKGROUND: In 1996 I started significant production of Nancy watermelons, a large, thin-rind, very sweet heirloom melon which has been in our family for more than 110 years. Nancy (nee Tate) Bryan, a first cousin of my great-grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Wofford, first found the Nancy watermelon growing in a fencerow or ditchbank near Rome, Georgia, in the 1880’s. Mr. Wofford brought Nancy watermelon seeds with him to Rudy, AR, ( just north of Ft. Smith/Van Buren), which he quickly helped establish as “The Watermelon Capital of the World”. The Nancy was not a good commercial watermelon due to the thin rind, but local Rudy area farmers grew it for about 70 years for family comsumption.
The last Nancy melons were grown in the Rudy area in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, and as far as we knew the seeds were lost. But during a family geneological search in 1986, I discovered some viable Nancy seeds still in possession of Nancy Tate Bryan’s youngest son, Avery Bryan, disabled at age 82 with a stroke but still living in Lyerly, Georgia. I took Avery’s seeds, put some out with Seed Savers, and we started growing them again. The Nancy is similar to the Crimson Sweet in appearance and color, but much larger. Historically it was considered a 40 lb.(18.2 kgs.) melon, and my largest Nancy in 1996 weighed 45.5 lbs. (20.7 kgs.).
CURRENT “NO-IRRIGATE/NO-WEED/NO-TILL” NANCY PRODUCTION
In 1996 I started serious production of Nancy watermelons. Using the Hydrosource/Sunbelt System, this 30′ X 160′ (9m X 48m) bed (4800 sq. ft.) bed produced 363 Nancy watermelons. While several of the Nancy melons topped 40 lbs. (18.2 kgs.), the estimated per acre yield of the bed if calculated at only 20 lbs. (9.1 kgs.) per melon would have been 66,000 lbs. (66,000 kgs. per ha). (Note: Average per acre yield of Oklahoma watermelons is 15,000 lbs.—6818 kgs.) This was achieved despite three problems:
a.) No honey bees for pollination due to the bee mite decimation of virtually all wild hives in this area.
b.) Destruction of vines before full fruit maturity by bacterial wilt caused by a spotted cucumber beetle infestation.
c.) No fertilizer was applied to this plot during the past two years.
We had some annoying grass and weed penetration of this particular bed through the holes made by the fabric pins. This problem is significantly worse in this bed because some of the Sunbelt was torn when I had to remove the two 15′ X 160′ (4.5m X 48m) sections to correct a gapping problem. The original 4″ (10 cms.) overlap caused gapping when the polymer swelled, much as a man’s coat would gap open if he gained an extra 50 lbs. (21 kgs.). The reinstallation with a wider 9″ (12.5 cm.) overlap solved the problem, but in the process I tore some small holes in removing the fabric pins.
Cucurbits do exceptionally well on the Sunbelt beds, and unusually high yields are often obtained. For example, a total of 77 watermelons of the 363 grown, primarily from the foreground, had already been harvested at the time this photograph below was taken circa 15 August 1996.
The first 90′ (27m) of this test plot received Hydrosource Standard at the rate of 67 lbs. per 1000 sq. ft. (30.4 kgs. per 91m2), with the remaining 70′ (21m) not receiving any polymer. Although no yield data was recorded between the two rates, it was obvious that yields near the house with the Hydrosource were considerably higher than the section without polymer.
Photographs #1A & B: Initial 1995 Hydrosource/Sunbelt no-till bed construction. It was planted with Super 45 cantaloupes and some Nancy watermelons at the time we were just learning to plant with the Booth Planting Tubes.
Photograph #2: 1996 Nancy watermelons in early bloom stage of growth. All were planted with Booth Planting Tubes.
Photograph #3: A total of 77 of the 363 Nancy watermelons grown in the bed had already been harvested prior to this mid-August 1996 photograph, primarily from the foreground sections which contains the Hydrosource.
Photograph #4: Photograph from the opposite end which contained Sunbelt without any Hydrosource. These 1996 yields were an estimated 25-50% lower on this end than the other end with the Hydrosource.
Copyright 1996 by Daniel J. Wofford, Jr, and Dale Greenwood.