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Valley View Farm At Fulton Planting Melons For Watermelon Festival

By Staff, 04/10/20 9:08 PM

South of I-30 near Fulton is a farm which is about as far west as you can go in Hempstead County. Many people know Valley View Farm for its production of sod for Fulton Grass but there are other crops grown there. Right now one of those “other crops” is going in the ground, watermelons in preparation for the 44th annual Hope Watermelon Festival. Says Tommy Warren of Valley View, “If we’re going to have a watermelon crop in August we have to be planting these watermelons….and that’s what we’ve done. We’re optimistic, we think everyone’s going to be ready for it”.
Before the planting of 20 acres of watermelons in preparation for the festival and for farmer’s markets, the seeds go into soil in a greenhouse. “I prefer to start them in the greenhouse. We plant the seeds into little compost pots and trays during the first week of March. Four weeks later, here we are putting them out in the field,” says Warren. He continues, “we’re still pushing the envelope because it could frost all the way up to the third week in April but we’re counting on missing it.” Warren is optimistic as the National Weather Service is calling for temperatures as low as 37 on Tuesday night. He said the plants for the watermelon festival will go in the field at the end of April.
While Warren has concerns about a possible frost, he’s taking preparations for such an event by putting down black plastic in his first seven acres. “When I put down the black plastic, it warms the soil. It does two things, it warms the soil and stops any evaporation out of the soil so it retains the moisture,” says Warren. He also noted there is a “drip tape” providing moisture for those plants. These are 6 inch plants and within two weeks they’ll have little vines and in three or four weeks the black plastic will be covered. “Once those vines get out there about two or three feet long, they’ll start setting little melons,” says Warren. He notes “by the time the watermelon gets to be the size of a pickle, you’re looking at about thirty days to harvest”. Warren says the first melons should be available about a week before July 4th.
Growing melons is not without hazards says Warren. “If there’s a way you can lose a crop of watermelons, I think I’ve done it. I’ve had a hail storm come through and beat every watermelon down to a point where you couldn’t even recognize it as being a plant. Other times I’ve had the Red River rise and flood the whole field,” he said. He also talked about frost. “The frost will try to get you every year if you try to plant early like I do. But every time I get frosted, when you have it on this plastic, if you do end up losing a few plants it doesn’t take the whole field, it just takes a streak across the field. It’s worth the gamble to pick up those few extra weeks of selling.” Warren also says he has every insect in Southwest Arkansas that wants to eat them.
“We look forward to it every season,” says Warren. He continues, “my son McCall is 16 years old and he’s in charge of the field this year. He’s in charge of hiring and firing and getting the job done. For me, more than just the money we make off watermelons, if you make money at all, the reason I really started was to raise these boys. I didn’t want them to wonder what they were going to do when they got home from school. I wanted them to know what they were going to do. They’ve worked these watermelon fields since they were little and it’s fun to be able to stand back and let them take it. I’ll advise them as we go. It’s just a fun thing for me to watch.”
Warren says in addition to the melons he grows for the watermelon festival and for the farmer’s markets, he sells to other vendors. He will be happy to sell melons by the load as long as they are available this summer.