The Summer of Too Many Watermelons

I have shared a brief history of our farming experience, which started at the age of 25 on a leased farm in Virginia. We planted our first-ever garden there, a small patch in our side yard that required a 7-foot-tall fence to keep the ever-present deer out. After three years in Virginia and two more in Texas, my husband’s job took us to Oklahoma. We bought our dream ranch there – 150 acres of rolling land, with three ponds, a creek, two barns, and a brick ranch house. We were in heaven! The beef cattle, horses, chickens, cats, dogs, and humans all settled into a new life as Okies. And as other gardeners can relate to, it didn’t take long for me to begin itching to get my hands dirty and get some plants in the ground. Luckily, the previous owners had an established, albeit neglected, garden plot surrounded by grapevines and apple trees. It measured 45 x 70 feet, a size that may not seem too large to some, but I assure you it was plenty large enough to give me lots of work! We hauled the multiple tractor loads of manure from the cattle barn out to the garden and tilled them all in. Then the fun began – getting the garden planned out and the seeds into the soil. I planted several varieties of tomatoes, along with jalapenos, bell peppers, okra, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, lima beans, purple hull peas, corn (which the raccoons feasted on), cantaloupe, and watermelons. I was so excited to have all of those tiny seeds buried in the soil of my new garden, germinating away and ready to pop their heads up at the right time. Sure enough, in about a week, I began to see tiny green leaves coming up. I have been gardening for all of my adult life, and still there is nothing that excites me more than to see a little seed poke its first leaves up through the soil. Maybe it’s the sign of new life, or the anticipation of the flowers and/or produce that I know will eventually come from that plant, but those first two leaves are such a gift.

A few weeks after the garden had started growing, my parents came up from Texas for a visit. We walked out to the garden and I showed them everything I had planted. Pointing to the melon patch, I asked my dad if he thought I would get a good number of watermelons from the plants I had put in. My dad grew up on a farm in rural Louisiana, where his family grew acres of watermelons to sell to local grocery stores. It’s fair to say that he knows a thing or two about watermelons. He looked around at my patch of plants just beginning to vine, and he said, “Well, first off, you have way too many watermelons planted. They are gonna be on top of each other before too long.” I laughed sheepishly and thought, well, I’ll find a use for the extras, I guess!

Boy, was he right about planting too many! I was out there every day pulling vines off of each other, trying not to crush one plant as I tended to another. We had planted Black Diamonds and Crimson Sweets, and they were both delicious. Once the melons began to ripen, we couldn’t keep up with them, no matter how much melon we ate and gave away to friends. So I did what lots of gardeners do who have far too much produce. I signed up for a booth at the local farmer’s market. I also had quite a supply of tomatoes, jalapenos, apples, cantaloupe, and okra, which grows like a weed and must be picked every day. That summer I learned just how hard the vendors work to bring their produce to market. I made about $500 profit, and most of that came from those crazy watermelons! I would haul all of them in the back of my pickup truck and be sold out in the first hour. A few customers liked them so much that they began reserving watermelons for the next week’s market! I couldn’t believe it, but I was glad they were enjoying the melons. Sadly, we moved to Ohio the next summer so I didn’t have the chance to plant more watermelons and sell them at the market again. But I’ll always remember the look on my dad’s face when he first glanced at my melon patch, and I have a great story to go with it.

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