Use your melon
Have you ever felt the urge to smash a watermelon with your head?
Nah, me either.
But it seems there are plenty who do and you’ll find them at Chinchilla this weekend for the bi-annual Chinchilla Melon Festival. Apparently the record is 47 melons in 60seconds. Sad news this year though … the organisers have put a stop to the melon head-bashing competition, something to do with potential risk to competitors’ brains. You will however be able to witness melon skiing, melon bungee and the melon ironman race.
The festival is timed to coincide with the watermelon season … Queensland melons are harvested between December and mid April each year.
I interviewed Chinchilla melon grower, Terry O’Leary, a while back. He explained the intricacies in breeding seedless watermelons. While you and I may love eating seedless varieties they are actually inbred … and need a seeded melon to survive.
And if you think growing melons is as easy as throwing some seed in the soil, think again. Terry says they are a tricky crop, which is always throwing up new challenges.
Terry supplies melons to the central markets through the Select Melons Grower group.
Check out Terry’s blog Melons Cause Insomnia
Read on to follow the Paddock to Plate journey of a watermelon.
Seedling: We start with a seedling, which we buy from a nursery in Withcott. We plant in the second week of September into a plastic-covered mulch bed with trickle-tape irrigation underneath. It’s the most efficient way of irrigating.
Rotation: We run an eight-year rotation. For five years the ground is planted with grass cover to build up organic matter. Then we plant watermelons. The next year we do a cover crop of millet or oats. Then the final year we plant melons again. Then it’s back to grass for another five years.
Gestation: Our early plantings take 90 days to come to fruition but melons planted in November need just 65 days in production. Melons planted in January come in in about 70 days.
Difficult: Melons are very finicky. They’re not easy to grow, particularly the seedless. They’re very temperamental, particularly with weather. If it’s too cold or there’s too much cloud they don’t pollinate properly and that leads to misshapen fruit and cracks in the middle.
Disease: Melons are very susceptible to disease through their roots. You have to be on top of them, nearly living with them. You have to act at the slightest sign of fungus or downy mildew.
Growing: They’re related to pumpkins and have a similar growing style. We use moisture probes in the soil to work out when they need water and how much they need. We can also apply fertiliser through our trickle irrigation system.
Harvest: We harvest by hand with the use of mechanical aids. A tractor drives over the rows and men pick the ripe melons and put them onto a conveyer belt. They go to our packing shed and straight into a box. We don’t wash them. We can go through a paddock anything from three to 12 times to pick the entire crop. We don’t pick if the temperature gets above 38 degrees because they go soft and bruise. A lot of the bruising happens during transport.
Ripe: It’s really hard to tell if a watermelon is ripe. It depends on the variety. Tapping them does work but you need to know what you’re listening for. Lighter-skinned melons should be a creamy colour on the bottom. Dark melons go a deep yellow.
Fresh: We can have our melons into stores within 48 hours of picking.