Giant watermelon dominance takes daily diligence
MECHANICSVILLE, Va. (Sept. 26, 2017) — When Virginia growers gun again this year for the State Fair’s biggest watermelon award, most bets will probably be on Davis Wells.
The 72-year-old retired construction inspector said he’s won nine of the 10 times he’s entered the contest.
“If you even knew how many of them boys want me so bad,” he said. “They may get me there this year.”
Wells set a new state record last year when his melon weighed in at 245.7 pounds. This was nothing new for him. He’s set a previous record of 190.5 pounds in 2007.
“The thing was almost four feet long. It was huge,” Wells said of last year’s record-setter.
He said he grows his giant watermelons (and other oversized produce, including pumpkins and cantaloupes) on his 1.25-acre home in Hanover County. He said he takes the advice of Virginia Extension employees and focuses on soil health and high-quality seeds.
And although he’s retired, pushing the size limits of produce requires diligence, he said.
“You don’t get a vacation when you’re doing this. I haven’t had a vacation in 20 years,” he said.
Every day, he said, he makes sure his plants are properly pruned and keeps an eye out for disease.
“If you forget one day… you lose it,” he said. “This stuff can come up overnight.”
Ahead of him is the world record holder, Chris Kent, a Tennessee accountant who produced a 350.5-pound watermelon in 2013.
Wells said he hand-pollinates his seeds, and it takes 130 days to grow a contending melon. His friend and competitor, Hank Houston, 53, of Spotsylvania, said it’s that sort of care that keeps Wells at the top of the leader board.
“I think attention to detail and putting a lot of time and effort into them,” he said are keys to success.
This year’s competition might carry its own irony. Houston plans to enter, and if he wins, it will be with a fruit grown from Wells’ seed.
“A lot of people are kind of secretive, I feel like,” Houston said. “We share new ideas.”
It’s that camaraderie and competitiveness that Wells said keeps him in the competition.
“Everybody keeps coming after me and trying to beat me,” he said. “Of course, the bragging rights is a big part of it. … I keep trying.”
Wells will compete in the Virginia Giant Vegetable Associaiton’s Giant Watermelon Weigh-In on Sept. 30 at the Meadow Event Park during the fair.