Extreme growers in Dallas

Zelma Edwards shows off her 143-pound watermelon, which won a prize for its weight and size.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
Zelma Edwards shows off her 143-pound watermelon, which won a prize for its weight and size.



DALLAS — Zelma Edwards calls the watermelon she’s been nurturing all summer and fall “the baby.”

It doesn’t live up to its name. It’s 143 pounds, far bigger than most babies, excluding infant elephants and whales.

Edwards’ baby won a title suitable to its size on Oct. 7: The largest watermelon grown and weighed in Oregon.

Her watermelon crushed the competition by 41 pounds, and it wasn’t the only giant in her garden. The next biggest weighed 124 — that too, would have broken the record, but she only entered her largest in the contest at Bauman’s Farm & Garden in Gervais, part of the farm’s annual Harvest Festival.

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A nearly 1,000 pound pumpkin is one of four grown in Ron and Zelma Edwards garden in Dallas. The pumpkin will become a boat in the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta in Tualatin on Saturday.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten over it yet,” said Edwards, of Dallas, last week. “I knew that it was going weigh big, but I didn’t know I was going to take the Oregon record. It was fun growing it, and it was fun at the end of it. I’ll do it again.”

Edwards and her husband, Ron, have been growing large vegetables and plants — pumpkins, tomatoes, sunflowers and watermelons — for about seven years. Ron took sixth place in the giant pumpkin contest at Bauman’s with his own more-than-1,300-pound baby.

They do care for their growing giants like they are “a bunch of kids,” Zelma said. Her watermelon wanted for nothing.

“We work hard at it,” she said. “It takes your whole summer.”

She followed some common principles of “extreme vegetable growing,” as Ron puts it, to raise her hefty watermelon.

“You have to take all the small ones off, and it has to be fed every day,” Zelma explained. “They are a very high eater. The sun gives them sugar and the sugar gives them the energy to grow at night.”

Every two or three days, she would see a noticeable difference in the watermelon’s size.

“It was hard not to go out there and measure every day,” she said.

During the hot days, she made sure the watermelon patch had shade, and when the nights got colder, Zelma’s “baby” was tucked under a blanket.

Her state record-breaking season began with the hope of topping her personal record.

“I grew one once before and that was only 61 pounds,” she said. “That was a few years ago.”

Serious about the endeavor, she searched for the right seeds and found them by joining a giant watermelon club based in Tennessee, which sends its members seeds.

She was sent seeds from a monster 305-pound watermelon grown in Tennessee.

“Can you imagine one that big?” Zelma said.

Ron said the hot nights in that region of the country produce those larger-than-life watermelons.

“It’s warm all night. They have a lot of days that will be 80, 90 degrees all night long,” Ron said.

He said the hot summer in the Willamette Valley this year provided an assist to Zelma’s record-breaker.

Zelma’s season began with ambitions to grow a giant pumpkin and giant tomatoes in addition to her giant watermelon.

The pumpkin ended up being “small” at 807 pounds, and the tomatoes, while firmly in the large category, weren’t on par with what she’s grown in the past.

“Then I could see it (the watermelon) growing and I could see the progress in it,” she said. “I kind of lost interest in everything else and put all my energy into the watermelon.”



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