Mississippi melons sweeten retirement one seed at a time

Two Mississippi retirees work to revive their county's once-thriving melon crop. They expect to have 12,000 sweet watermelons to sell this summer.

By , The Natchez Democrat/AP

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    Small-town farmers in Adams County, Miss., are using their retirement to revive the area's once-thriving melon industry.
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Larry Allen has a greenhouse, a few acres to work, and a dream for Adams County.

"You've heard of Smith County watermelons?" he said. "I don't think they ever had anything on Adams County melons, and we are going to try to bring Adams County melons back. I think we can grow a whole better melon than Smith County."

His reasoning is simple.

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"They don't grow them here anymore, but it's the people who have changed, not the dirt," he said.

It all started last year when he and a partner, Jerome Arnold, wanted to find a way to spend their retirement.

"We wanted something to do besides sitting in the shade," he said.

So they started out looking for plants to put in a test plot, and found 360.

It was a good enough first year, tried mostly out of curiosity, but Mr. Arnold said they decided to take it to the next level this year.

"If you're going to do 500, you might as well do 1,000, and if you're going to do 1,000, you might as well do 4,000," he said.

This year, they've already started, erecting a small greenhouse and growing 4,000 watermelon plants from seeds. The seedlings are barely poking out of their growing cups at the present, but they'll be planted six feet apart to allow the plants to grow into full vines.

"We decided to grow them from seeds this year because we were only able to find 300 plants last year," Mr. Allen said.

The next step will to be to make the rows the plants will be in, and Allen made a plowing implement that, when hooked behind a tractor, will gather a row of dirt to a height of eight inches and a width of 24 inches.

The rows will stand eight feet apart and will be 800 feet long. They'll be able to plant approximately 900 vines to the acre.

When it comes time to plant, one of the men will drive the tractor, and the other will ride on seat mounted on a piece of farm equipment hooked to the back of the tractor.

The machine they'll be pulling behind the tractor allows the rider to hold a number of seedlings in front of the seat, and as it is pulled the machine will poke a hole in the ground every six feet and fill it with water. The rider will then drop a seedling into the hole.

"We did it all by hand last year, and we decided we were too old for that," Arnold said.

If everything goes right, each vine will put out three melons, producing a total of 12,000 melons, Allen said.

"As far as I know, we're the only ones doing anything like this in Adams County," he said.

"We started it, more or less, out of curiosity."

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