Seminole County, Georgia, 4-H member Kellee Alday won first place in this year’s Georgia 4-H Watermelon Growing Contest. The 128-pound ‘Carolina Cross’ watermelon she grew landed Alday the win, which was far from her first, but it will be her last.
Alday’s at college and will be ineligible to enter next year’s competition, but she left the world of high school 4-H as a watermelon-growing champion. She won first place and a $100 prize with a 108-pound watermelon in 2010. She won second place twice, with a 120-pound watermelon in 2011 and again with a 126-pound watermelon in 2009. She won third place four times, with a 115-pound watermelon in 2016, with a 109-pound watermelon in 2015, with a 103-pound watermelon in 2014 and with a 91-pound watermelon in 2013. In 2012, she won 12th place with a 59-pound watermelon.
In this year’s contest, second place and $50 went to Long County, Georgia, 4-H member Andrew Groover for his 121.1-pound melon. Wayne County, Georgia, 4-H member Jack Ogden won the third-place honor and $25 prize for his 86-pound melon.
Sponsored by the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the contest is designed to pique students’ interest in agriculture. “We had 24 entries this year, and we are extremely grateful for the time and effort of all of our participating 4-H’ers,” Michael Rabalais, a Georgia 4-H program specialist and the contest’s coordinator.
Growing gigantic, award-winning watermelons takes skill, patience and time, and young gardeners should plan ahead and persevere. “Don’t get discouraged your first time. Keep on going and try your best,” Alday said.
Any watermelon variety may be grown, but University of Georgia Cooperative Extension experts recommend the ‘Carolina Cross’ variety.
Kellee Alday and her brother, Sammy Alday, grew and entered watermelons into the contest after their father, Ricky Alday’s, encouragement.
“I hadn’t grown watermelons since the late ‘80s, but I grew up doing it with my daddy and my granddaddy,” Ricky Alday said. “They grew them all the way back to the ‘50s.”
The Alday siblings began by growing “a few hills” of watermelons. Their mother, Gina Alday, served as record-keeper.
“It became something we did as a family. Sammy competed for nine years, and he won first in the watermelon contest one time and first in the pumpkin-growing contest twice. He placed in the top five in eight out of the nine years he entered,” Ricky Alday said. “He graduated and went off to college and Kellee kept competing.”
Just like large-scale farmers, the young farmers fretted over the weather and associated effects on their crops.
“There have been a lot of times we sat out in the garden and prayed over the melons because south Georgia weather is really unpredictable,” she said. “When we had a flood, we panicked. It’s been a crazy road, but it was totally worth it.”
Her secret to growing award-winning watermelons is to save the seeds for the next season.
“Sometimes we grew the ‘Carolina Cross’ variety for the contest mixed in with the ‘Crimson Sweets’ for cutting and eating,” she said. “We cut the real big ones and save the seeds out of them. The ones with mold on them, we throw to the livestock.”
The cows don’t complain, but humans typically would not enjoy the taste of the award-winning melons.
“The big ones are coarse inside, so the meat isn’t good to eat, like a regular eating melon,” said Ricky Alday, who admits he is sad to see the family activity come to an end.
“I once grew a 183-pound ‘Carolina Cross,’ but that was years ago. I think I’ve enjoyed (entering the contest) more than the kids,” he said. “My folks always showed me how to grow something to eat. Maybe this will help them decide to have a garden one day and grow their own food.”
Georgia 4-H members are now submitting their entries for the 4-H Pumpkin Growing Contest which is also sponsored by the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. To enter either contest, a 4-H’er must grow the watermelon or pumpkin, submit a photo of themselves with their melon and have it weighed by their local UGA Extension agent. The pumpkin contest deadline this year is Monday, Oct. 2. Kellee Alday’s 317-pound pumpkin has already been entered.
Information about the contests, including photos of the past winners, can be found online at georgia4h.org.