Quite a Fair growth spurt

Andrew Vial of Liberty brought the largest watermelon in North Carolina State Fair history (The North State Journal)

Liberty man sets mark with large watermelons

ASHEBORO — Andrew Vial calls growing big watermelons a hobby. Yet for the Liberty man, it’s truly a passion.

He took another watermelon to a big stage and collected another special distinction. His 341-pound watermelon was the largest ever at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh.

“You just don’t get melons like that every day,” Vial said.

Vial, who calls his remodeling carpentry work his full-time job, said he logs 50 to 60 hours per week tending to watermelons.

“It’s a hobby,” Vial said. “I’ve been growing giant watermelons for about seven years. It doesn’t pay much when you look at the number of hours, but it’s bragging rights.”

Vial’s latest big watermelon came within nine pounds of the world record. He has grown four of the top 10 largest watermelons in the world, according to his record-keeping.

He’s also proud of the actual size of the 237-inch watermelon from this year. That includes the total of the circumference, side-to-side and end-to-end measurements.

Vial, who turned 38 at the beginning of this year’s State Fair, farms just outside of Liberty on N.C. 49 toward Burlington.

He begins the process in March, along the way keeping the ones growing largest. He tended to 15 total plants this year, up from the normal 10.

“It gives you better odds, but it’s more work,” he said.

Vial said watermelons can be eaten after about 60 days, while the normal growth period lasts around 90 days.

“I’m feeding it every day,” he said, also pointing out he examines the watermelons for potential disease. “The longer you can keep that plant healthy (is the key).”

For this year’s biggest entry, it grew for 127 days, Vial said.

After a competition, the watermelons are cut open and the seeds are taken out. Vial said some seeds are sent around the world and auctioned off for various causes.

Vial takes his watermelons on the road. He has attended competition shows in Kentucky, and he makes annual visits to the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville. He won in Tennessee in 2019 with his largest-ever entry at 341½ pounds.

Andrew Vial’s second watermelon took home the state fair blue ribbon in the in-state category at 329 pounds (The North State Journal)

He has two watermelons on display at the North Carolina State Fair, which wraps up this weekend. They are the two largest on record in the state this year.

It’s part of a competition that also includes giant pumpkins.

“These growers face many obstacles when growing giant fruit,” North Carolina State Fair manager Kent Yelverton said. “Excessive heat, drought, too much rain, impacts from local wildlife can all impact these giants. Just getting to the fair with a giant pumpkin or watermelon can be an adventure and achievement.”

The North Carolina State Fair competition is endorsed by The Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, an international organization that promotes growing giant vegetables. It’s sponsored by AgriSupply.

 

By Bob Sutton

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