Growing pains: Melons facing some challenges this year

Published 4:21 am Friday, June 30, 2017

John Gallaspy planted his first batch of watermelons 74 years ago in 1943.

“I was too young for that war (World Ward II),” said the man who would later serve his country in Korea. “I put in a melon patch and a small crop of strawberries. I planted three varieties of melons — Stone Mountain, which were green; the striped and sweet Dixie Queen, which were called Cuban Queen before they arrived here; and Kleckey’s Sweet, a long, black-colored melon that had a flavor like ambrosia. Kleckey’s melons are no longer extant.”

Gallaspy sold his melons for one half cent per pound at his family’s store that year, so a 20-pound watermelon would bring in a whole $10.

During that successful season, Gallaspy got the bug. He would be a watermelon grower from then on, most recently with growing partner Mickey Murphy, retired chancellor at the Sullivan Campus of Northshore Technical Community College in Bogalusa, and, lately, his son Dr. Whit Gallaspy, who recently moved back to Bogalusa.

Dr. Gallaspy said, “It’s no myth that a diabetic can eat all the yellow meat watermelon that he or she wants.”

“He caught melon fever,” John Gallaspy said. “Whit is the keeper of the flame now.”

But his son’s timing could have been better.

“It’s a bizarre experience this year,” Gallaspy said, on Tuesday. “The crop is failing. It has rained two out of every three days. In May, we got more than nine inches of rain. And in June, which is not over, we’ve already gotten 14 inches.

“Our plight this year has been the constant, constant rains.”

He explained that the wet conditions cause a “fungi that brings about wilt that kills the vines.” And all growers in Washington Parish, where the watermelon is the premiere crop, are affected.

But the Gallaspys will keep at it.

“I think it’s a wholesome hobby,” said the father as he and his son walked through his watermelon patch west of Bogalusa. “It’s fun!”

While there, John Gallaspy explained that the grass growing thick and course in the rows was unusual.

“They (the melons) should be about twice that size, and there should be many more,” Gallaspy said. “The rain has leeched a lot of the plant food out. In an average year there might be four to seven melons on each vine. A farmer can’t make a profit when there’s only one good melon per plant. The ground should just be covered with watermelons.”

He mostly gives his melons away, but when he does sell them, he does so out of his friend’s Travis Grocery.

“I took him some, 80, on Monday, and they were sold out by 3 p.m.,” Gallaspy said.

He praised longtime Washington Parish County Agent Henry Harrison for doing “a wonderful job of promoting” the local crop.

Both men surely hope that next year’s weather will not be too watery for the watermelons.

Gallaspy, ever the learned educator, ended the outing with what he said is his favorite watermelon quote.

“Mark Twain said there were no Southern watermelons in the Garden of Eden,” he said. “We know, because if there had been, Adam and Eve would have ignored the apple.”