This is the story of why there are ten teams of UNL staff, faculty and students competing to grow the largest watermelon.
Early last Spring Betsy announced that Common Soil Seed Library had recieved a donation of some seeds from the state record largest melon and its siblings. This seed would not be enough fill demand this year, so we needed to grow it in our backyard to expand the seed. (note: to “expand seed” is the term seed people use to talk about growing out a smaller supply of seed to create a larger supply)
“What! That will take up a 20 foot square, thats about a third of our whole garden!” I whine.
“Well, it’s that or figure out another place to grow it” Betsy is quick to deliver ultimatums of this sort, this one only clocked about a 4 on the richter scale. So I could have persisted and avoided any involvement with giant watermelon vines - but the truth is, I’m a sucker for watermelons.
The head of operations of the Agronomy farm did not hesitate to offer 8000 square feet on east campus when I proposed a contest. When word went out, about ten teams stepped forward with interest. Each agreed to chip in $20 so that we could have our own budget for shared infrastructure, like seed starting supplies, fencing, irrigation, and cages to protect the fruits. And all agreed to keep the area free of any other watermelon cultuvars to keep the seed true to type for donation to the library in Fall ’18.
Contestants either tried their hand at starting their own seed, or left that part to me and a new friend, Nick Arneson, who I got to know during this process. Two or three contestants are growing off campus, but most are side by side at our plot about 250 yards east of the Law College.
It’s fun to see the different approaches to growing these, exeryone has their own twist, but most teams are pretty hands-off. This is no big surprise as the summer time is the busy season for graduate students in agriculture, and most contestants fit this description. I'll brag that my plants were first to set fruit, and first to fall victim to rodent damage and poor pollination! I hope others will stay vigilant and avoid these sorrows.
The winner will recieve bragging rights and a laser-cut wooden pin that will be proof of victory in the first UNL giant melon grow-off.
My hope is that this will leave a legacy of continued opportunity for students on East Campus to access space to grow gardens in more informal settings. I would be especially pleased if this project contributes to a future on East campus where students from other disciplines can easily access garden space and cross paths with new faces they wouldn’t otherwise see.
But, the matter at hand is unquestionably to produce melons of uncanny size and celebrate our efforts together this Fall.