Master Gardeners: Watermelon project gets kids into horticulture

Earlier this year, the Lincoln County Master Gardeners gave out packets of black diamond watermelon seeds to local fourth-graders and invited the children to participate in watermelon growing contest this summer.

“The whole idea is to encourage kids about planting and taking care of something,” said Master Gardeners’ member Homer Richardson. He said one of the organization’s goals is to involve children in gardening and horticulture.






Richardson said the idea for a contest began when club members started to ask the question, “If we really want to get kids involved, what should we do?”

The end result of the club’s brainstorming was the watermelon-growing contest. The group chose watermelons because of their ideal growing season and the fruit’s popularity in the region.

The gardeners gave out more than 600 packets of seeds at every school in the county and city as well as Brookhaven Academy.

Master Gardeners hope the watermelon contest will be met with as much interest as their previous flowering bulb-growing contests. In that competition, school children compared their bulbs to one another and were graded on who had the most blooms.

Master Gardener Steve Edge, the main organizer of the watermelon contest, said the group chose fourth graders because the students have reached an age where they have learned some responsibility, but have yet to be distracted by boys or girls or video games. As an added bonus to the program, most of the children participating had previously competed with the bulb-growing contest and were already familiar with the process.

Edge explained if the black diamond seeds were planted as watermelons normally are, they will not grow in the proper time frame, but the students were given strict directions that will allow the fruits to flourish until the contest’s conclusion at Ole Brook Festival time.

“As long as the kids have followed the directions properly, everything will go just fine,” said Edge.

Edge said the contest has been set to conclude on Oct. 4 at the festival in downtown Brookhaven. The Master Gardeners will have a scale and will weigh all of the watermelons prior to noon that day to determine the winners. The first-place winner for the largest melon will receive a $100 cash prize, second place will receive a $50 cash award and third will receive a $25 cash prize.

Edge added that the plan is, as of now, to auction off all three of the prize-winning melons and distribute half the net profits evenly between the winners.

The Master Gardeners of Lincoln County promote horticulture in the area and provide community service such as maintaining the Easthaven Cemetery. They also travel and participate in statewide events.

Edna Bishop, current president of the Master Gardeners, said the biggest push this year has been the kids and education because of the lack of the knowledge of the younger generation about gardening and growing plants. She said it is important for children to realize that food does not come from just grocery stores, but from the growers first and foremost.

Bishop added her favorite part of the experience is interacting with the children firsthand and hearing their ideas as well as answering their questions.

“It’s things like this that make the program worthwhile,” she said.