Knight hopes to compete
||Morgan County resident Cliff Knight measures what is believed to be the largest watermelon produced in Alabama. The melon measured 60 inches around and weighed 195 pounds. He took his watermelon to Morgan Farmers Co-op in Hartselle for the official weigh-in.
for world record
By Susie Sims
Many people like to brag about the abundance of produce from their gardens. Some of the stories can begin to resemble fishing tales.
Morgan County native Cliff Knight is aiming for the record books—even if he won’t make it this year.
Nestled between Hartselle and Decatur, in the quiet community of Flint, Knight is aiming for the "Big One."
Knight produced a Carolina Cross watermelon that weighed in at 195 pounds.
The official weigh-in was conducted at the Morgan Farmers Co-op in Hartselle.
Knight said his father helped him pick the melon and transport it to the store.
"It was a struggle," said Knight. "I thought as we were lifting it that it might weigh more than expected."
Knight had estimated the weight of the melon at 180 pounds. This estimate was based on a chart that uses the melon’s diameter as a guideline.
Knight had already picked a 138-pounder by himself and thought he needed help with the bigger one.
"I was shocked when we weighed it," recalled Knight. "I kind of wished I had let it go to 200 pounds."
To his knowledge, Knight has produced the largest melon in Alabama. He read about a man in Hughes who grew a 180-pounder.
For those of you hoping to gain some insight into the competitive world of watermelon growing, don’t look for much help from Knight. He is still in the learning process himself.
"Growing secrets are hard to come by," said the 39-year-old gardener. "It’s mostly trial and error because nobody wants to give away their secrets."
Knight said he keeps up with other growers across the country via the Internet.
He noted, however, that not much bragging is going on this year because of all the crazy weather.
Some of the wider-known secrets include using a tent to shade the melons from the sun. Knight said too much sun will cause the fruit to blister.
He placed his melons on plywood to help keep insects from boring into them. Once insects get inside, the melon can explode.
"I had one melon that would have been larger than this one if the bugs hadn’t gotten into it," said Knight. "That kind of thing happens."
Knight said he had five melons he was grooming to be the Big One.
Besides the one with insect damage, one of melons cross-pollinated with a neighbor’s Black Diamond melons and was knocked out of the race.
This was only Knight’s second year to attempt the melons in Alabama. He moved from Arkansas three years ago.
He said last year he did nothing out of the ordinary and still produced a 132-pound watermelon.
This year, he dug three-foot holes and filled them with equal parts of sand, manure and topsoil. He’s heard, however, that the current advice is to make the holes five feet.
Beside secret techniques, the rest of the growing process is quite normal.
Knight prepares his garden plot for planting by fertilizing with 13-13-13. Once the vines are up, he uses water soluble Miracle Gro.
Knight said there are two critical factors that affect his ability to produce a prize-winning melon—water and pollination.
Once the vines are planted on the prepared hills, Knight uses a drip irrigation system to ensure the vines have enough water to produce the large melons.
"It takes a lot of water to produce melons of any kind, especially these large ones," said Knight. "I set up the drip system to give them what they needed."
When the vines were young, they required about three gallons each per day. Just prior to him picking the 195-pounder, Knight said it was using 15 gallons per day.
Just as important as water is the pollination process.
While regular melon growers leave the process up to Mother Nature, those in the hunt for the Big One leave nothing to chance.
"Because of the drought, I used an artist paint brush to manually pollinate the flowers on the vines I planted," recalled Knight. "Even then, one of the flowers cross-pollinated with the neighbor’s plants."
He said he might have had better luck this year had the weather cooperated. Knight noted that the long stretch of 100-degree days really hindered the growing process of his melons.
Knight, a devoted record keeper, said the growth of his melons slowed way down during the heat wave.
He measured the melons daily with tape measures that were place under the melons while they still small.
His largest melon—the 195-pounder—measured 60 inches around the day it was picked.
Knight said it was a good thing the melon was ready to be picked because his tape only measured up to 60 inches. He said he will use longer tapes next year.
The seeds Knight uses came from the current record-holders who live in Arkansas.
Knight said the Bright family holds the current record for the world’s largest watermelon—268 pounds.
He said the family has held the record since the 1950s, except for a couple of years.
"The Bright family is serious about growing prize watermelons," said Knight. "They will plant 250 hills."
Knight said he plans to increase his plantings next year from five to eight.
What Do You Do With a 195-Pound Watermelon?
Asked if such large melons were good to eat, Knight said they were "pretty good."
He had watermelon wine made out of last year’s 132-pounder.
This year’s melon will likely suffer the same fate, at least in part. Some of the melon will be eaten, Knight said.
Of course, he will save some of the fruit’s 1,000 or so seeds to use next season. The rest he plans to give away at the Co-op store in Decatur, where his wife, Renee, works.
When he’s not growing huge watermelons, Knight serves as Sergeant First Class in the United States Army. Stationed at Ft. McClellan, Knight has served in the Army for more than 20 years.
Persons interested in contacting Knight may call him at (256) 303-0794.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.