- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

EFFINGHAM, Ill. (AP) - As a farm boy growing up between Dieterich and Wheeler, Devin Zumbahlen never had any problem getting plants to grow.

“We always put out a garden,” said the son of Elmer and Elaine Zumbahlen. “I’ve always grown watermelons, sweet corn and pumpkins.”

The past two years Devin grew Carolina Cross watermelons weighing about 115 pounds each. But this year, he moved into a rental home southeast of Effingham with bride Jackie.

He needn’t have worried about finding a suitable garden spot at the new place. In fact, Devin just harvested a Carolina Cross weighing 143 pounds.

Devin said growing huge watermelons involves more than throwing seed on the ground wishing for the best.

“There’s quite a bit that goes into it,” he said. “First, you have to have good fertilizer.”

Fortunately, neighbor/landlord Gerard Bierman is a dairy farmer who always has plenty of manure. Bierman came over this spring to spread some of it on the Zumbahlen garden.

Devin said he also used kelp spray - extracted from the saltwater plant - for the first time this year as a sort of fertilizer supplement.

Then, the successful watermelon grower must make sure his plants receive plenty of water - but not too much.

“About two gallons a week keeps the soil moist, but not soggy,” he said.

Jackie, who married Devin last fall, had never had a garden before this year. But after Devin tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee playing basketball, Jackie had to go out and water the garden.

Devin said he also hand-pollinates his plants.

“With a watermelon, the male plants appear first and the females come later,” he said. “I will pull the male flowers off the vine and rub them on the female (fruit-bearing) plant by hand.”

Devin said he wants to see if he can grow a 200-pound plus melon during the 2015 growing season. The world record watermelon - a 250.5-pound behemoth - was grown last year by Chris Kent of Sevierville, Tennessee.

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Source: Effingham Daily News, http://bit.ly/YDGxsc

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Information from: Effingham Daily News, http://www.effinghamdailynews.com

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