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September 8, 1998

Watermelons

by Peggy Denniston

The Merging of Cultures
Shipbuilding

Photo by Sheila Hagler
Rumor has it that Grand Bay couldn't make it through the summer without watermelons. Instead of burning up like so many crops after this year's dry spell, Big Man's watermelons were huge and sweeter than usual. Saving up water, at just the right time, can do that to them. Actually July would seem empty on the south end of Henderson Camp Road if Big Man's watermelons weren't stacked neatly under the trees in his front yard. Every few days, passing by, we could see the stacks change; the wooden wagon behind a tractor had moved. Finally one day most of them are gone. A farmer's work isn't done until his crop is marketed.

There's nothing neat and simple about growing watermelons. The field is bound to be entangled with prolific vines by the time the melons are set to begin ripening. Driving a tractor down rows to cultivate, or scratch-out the weeds, would mean squashing the vines. So grass and weeds grow up through the vines, sapping nutrients and water from the melons, threatening the crop.

Then there are the coyotes. As unbelievable as it may seem they love watermelons. Not satisfied just eating one at a time, they leave canine tooth-marks in a whole slew of them, tasting their way through the crop. Big Man figured out how to stop that though. If you hang some socks, soaked with cheap men's cologne, around the field, it's supposed to keep back the coyotes.

Harvest involves throwing hefty, slick melons man-to-man until they're loaded onto a wagon. At first, the driver has to be careful to stay off the unfinished melons and remaining vines. Then the wagons have to be unloaded, and the melons stacked. After several weeks the harvest is over. When a deal is finally struck for a sale, they have to be counted and loaded for travel. Not so different from seafood, the product is handled from the moment it's plucked from the environment.


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