My great grandfather ‘Chief’ knew what he was doing. He planted our watermelons late. He must have been a very patient man with a strong resolve to resist the pull of spring.

It was in the 90s a couple weeks ago. Today it’s 57 degrees here in Sumter this morning, April 25th. I am reminded why we wait until May to plant our Bradford watermelons. In fact, the forecast this whole week anticipates 50s and 60s at night and 70s and 80s in the day all week. Our watermelons like it hot, hot, hot! As we begin to languish in the heat, they begin to thrive. They are a desert crop after all.

We pull up large hills to plant them in in order to get the ground temperature up even hotter. It also helps to ensure that the seeds won’t be too moist since the mounds dry out faster than the surrounding soil. If the soil is too cool and wet, they will be slow to germinate or even simply rot.

The last field we planted last year was in early July. It was blistering hot. We planted them ill advised by others saying we’d never make it to harvest. We gave each hill a drink of water from a hand spray tank as we planted them. This field was not irrigated. It grew rapidly in the intense heat and produced beautifully. We harvested in October.

My great grandfather planted them late always. He focused his breed management on watermelons that would resist the late season ills that plagued cucurbits. He wanted to harvest them after everyone else’s melons were finished so he’d be the only one with them. He planted late, harvested in late September through October, and was the only one that had watermelons that were naturally chilled by the cool autumn nights.

Folks looked forward to his late harvest. I’m sure others chided him for waiting so long to plant. They probably wondered why he didn’t select his melons to be the earliest. He certainly could have. Maybe it was a personal tempering in patience. Maybe it was out of necessity because other crops came first. Maybe it was just his economic strategy. It doesn’t really matter why though. Who would argue with a man they dubbed ‘Chief’ who grew the best melons they had ever eaten?

Like Chief, I will wait to plant until any vestiges of cool weather that remain are gone. That’s what works. No need to change it. And so I look forward to that first sweet, succulent bite at the end of summer and savoring the best for last.

— Nat Bradford

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