by: Howard Hewett – Submitted September 13, 2014
Our daughter Georgianne called today on the way home for our 4th of July celebration to ask what method is the best to determine watermelon ripeness. She was stopping in Hempstead, TX (Texas Watermelon Capital) to pick up a melon for our 2009 celebration. Her dilemma was which ripeness checking method should be employed. She asked if she should use the Thump Method or the Broom Straw Method. Now, I am not quite sure what the Broom Straw method is, so I directed her to use the “Thump It Method”.
This discussion brought back a flood of memories of Dad’s watermelon patch over on our river farm at Federal Point. In North Carolina, cool spring weather delays the planting of watermelons so it was usually the first of July before our watermelons were ready for the harvest. Dad called his watermelons Georgia Rattlesnakes.
In doing a little research, I found that there was a type of watermelon grown in Eastern United States starting around 1870 that was named Georgia Rattlesnake. I would not be surprised if some of Dad’s seeds were passed along through the hands of the Hewett- Lewis family using the same method that Dad used.
At the time of planting, a mound (hill) was created to plant the seeds. A typical planting was three seeds per hill along with a little fertilizer. As the plants grew, only the healthy plants were allowed to remain in the hill. Planting was spread out over several weeks so all the watermelons would not ripen at the same time.
As the watermelons developed, Dad started taking notes on the growth of some of the melons in the patch. The largest and best shaped melons were singled out by Dad placing an “X” on the topside with his fingernail. As these melons continue to develop, he would place a second “X” and so on. A three “X” watermelon was a very special watermelon. By selection, the seeds from the three “X” watermelons were used for the next season’s planting.
Normally, XXX melons were not sold, but served to family and friends. The rule when eating a XXX melon was no seeds went on the ground. Dad collected all the mature seeds. They would be washed and dried on a screen. The seeds would end up in a Mason jar and stored for the next year’s planting.
It is interesting that not all one X melons made it to two Xs or two Xs to three Xs. Dad’s marks were based on potential. During the growing season some would not meet his expectations and would be sold for a lesser valve.
The size of the patch was around four to five acres. It is probably evident to the reader that the size of our watermelon patch produced a lot of melons and there were always enough melons for the family, along with some to be sold commercially.
We sold some in front of our home in a stand. My brother Thomas and I would alternate watching the stand while one of us would put one watermelon in a wagon and haul it up to the beach and sell door-to-door. We worked the beach from the Fort Fisher gates to the light at Kure Beach.
We actually had regular customers who would purchase one melon a week but sometimes more while they were available. Dad’s watermelons had dark and light green alternating stripes. Maybe that is how they got their name. Most of the larger melons weighed 35-45 pounds. The large two “X” ones sold for $5.00.
We would make a sale and go back a get another one. My brother and I would make five to six trips a day until we had cleared all the melons out. When our inventory became low, we would pick again. A lull between picking allowed a little break for us to swim and fish.
Now anyone who has operated a watermelon patch or had first hand knowledge what an enticement a watermelon patch can have on a bunch of young boys with a lot of time on their hands. On occasion, we had visitors at night. In most cases, their little foray into the night failed. All roads leading in or out of the river farm were inhabited by our relatives, the Lewises and the Davises. So the whole family was a large security force for the patch. During watermelon season, the Kure Beach police would come to the rescue when called. Once the intruders were sent on their way, Dad would reward the police with a large watermelon the next day.
My sister Jackie is holding a custom watermelon knife in the photograph above. It is still a family heirloom and will be passed on to future generations for the traditional watermelon cutting on the 4th of July.
[Editor: After Howard submitted the above article, we followed up with a series of clarifying questions. Howard’s detailed responses provided an additional story about the Hewett family in Federal Point during the 30’s – 50’s. Continue reading … Part 2 ]