Backyard patch harvests big watermelons for Millbrook gardener
He recently pulled a 61-pound watermelon from the vines. This was followed by two weighing 52 pounds or so. The 77-year-old retired paper mill worker has been growing the stuff his whole life. It all started on the family’s 300-acre farm north of Prattville, where he worked with his father.
“We grew whatever we thought we could make money from,” he said. “Cotton, corn and vegetables. We had a few cows, but most of them were for milk.”
At the time, much of what they were growing was considered “trucking farming,” or growing produce. It’s the product you stick with. Around the property in Millbrook you see pepper plants, tomatoes, pink peas, okra and a watermelon patch. He had a few rows of sweet corn coming in recently, but a windstorm bent the stalks to the ground, destroying the crop. He’s already planning to eat winter vegetables: kale, collard greens, and mustard greens.
The good soil is credited with producing a larger than usual watermelon crop this year. He planted the seed for Jubilee early in the summer.
“People say I used special seeds,” Rawlinson said. “I bought these seeds from Lowe’s; $2 and something a package.”
He may give the dirt credit, but it takes hard work. This character trait runs deep in the Rawlinson family. The young man knew the toil of the fields and forests, where he grew and hauled pulpwood with his father. In 1969 he went to work at what was then the Union Camp paper mill in Prattville. On the first day he loaded wood chips with a shovel. On the second day, there was a load of lime with the same shovel. He went to the shipping department.
“I became the No. 1 shipper. I shipped paper all over the world,” he said. “Then they came to me and wanted to know if I wanted to move into maintenance. This is where I finished.
He retired at the age of 42 in 2008. Along the way he raised seven children.
“They all graduated,” he said with a hint of pride in his voice. “I made sure they knew how to work.”
Back to the watermelon patch. There are still lots of bright yellow flowers, and vines are spread everywhere.
“I’ve never done a vineyard this way,” he said. “I think they’ll keep until the frost. I found a little watermelon growing under the cement of the car pillar. I took it out and it’s still growing. There’s a dent in the cement in it.”
It is difficult to confirm the state registry for watermelon. A quick internet search contains dozens of conflicting media reports about the grand champion. The winners are usually eliminated the following year, or even within a few weeks of the same growing season.
The Giant Watermelon Growers Club website lists a 321-pound cantaloupe grown in 2019 by Spencer Glasgow of Bessemer as the champion. Just five years ago, Glasgow displayed his 241.5-pound watermelon at the Alabama National Fair. For 2014, it was the largest in the state and the 10th heaviest in the world.
Rawlinson knows his melons won’t threaten the state championship bracket. He just loves working the dirt and reaping the harvest. He freezes the bonus to use throughout the year and distributes the rest to neighbors and friends.
But this year, he might do something different. It may save some seeds from larger watermelons.
“You never know,” he said. “They might do the same thing next year.”
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Marty Rooney at email@example.com.