RALEIGH — It took two men to carry each watermelon from the back of a pickup truck to a scale surrounded by onlookers at the State Farmers Market on Thursday.
The six melons were wrapped in fleece to protect them, and children made guesses at their weight while farmers sized up each other’s produce. They had come to see whose melon was biggest, the main attraction of Watermelon Day at the market.
First-time competitor Todd Dawson of Garner bested the field. Dawson’s melon weighed in at 179.5 pounds, beating the second-place melon by four pounds. He won bragging rights, $1,000 and the honor of having his melon on display at the Farmers Market Restaurant.
Dawson, who has been growing watermelon for five years, said this has been a tough season.
“All of our melons should have been much larger, but we have just gotten so much rain this year,” he said.
The key to a big, tasty watermelon is keeping the plant dry and disease free.
“Watermelon like water, but the vines don’t like to be wet,” Dawson said. “Wet vines create rot and disease, and that will spread like wildfire.”
Frequent storms this summer kept the ground soggy; since May, 18.08 inches of rain has fallen at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, about 6.6 inches more than normal, according to the National Weather Service.
Watermelon Day, which also includes tastings, free recipes and the N.C. Watermelon Queen, is a favorite summer event at the Farmers Market, said market manager Ronnie Best, emcee of the competition.
“We used to have seed-spitting contests, but people were slipping on the seeds,” Best said. “But we hope to start that up again next year.”
The Farmers Market promotes different fruits and vegetables throughout the year to encourage residents to savor seasonal produce from local growers.
“On any given Thursday, we normally have 8,000 to 10,000 visitors,” Best said. “But on a day like today, we get around 12,000 people. ... Strawberry Day is very popular, too.”
The record for the largest melon at Watermelon Day is 232 pounds, set in 2012 by H.C. Williams of Bailey. Dawson will try again next year to best it. He said he’ll take this year’s prize money and “put it right back into the next year’s watermelon.”