Melon growers think inside the box

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

If you meet Ed Hitson on the streets of Portales, don’t buy square watermelon seeds from him. They don’t exist any more than magical bean seeds do.

Hitson and his neighbor Tom Hebert can show you a square watermelon, however. Actually it’s rectangular to be exact — and they grew two of them this year.

“Last year I heard Japan was producing square watermelons,” Hebert said. “Eddie and I talked about it and he said, ‘Let’s try it.’”

Japanese growers hit on the idea because of space concerns, say the Roosevelt County neighbors. Square melons allow more to be stacked in a box and the flat-sided fruit can also be better stored in a refrigerator.

The melons are a rarity in Japan and command a price of $85 apiece.

The Japanese use five plexi-glass sides in which they place the young melon. As it grows it expands to the shape of the container.
Hebert and Hitson reasoned that since the melon itself didn’t require sunlight or water, the plexi-glass was unnecessary. They built theirs with scrap wood, and made only four sides.

“We were really worried about displacement,” Hitson said. “We didn’t want to stop the melon from growing.”

Hebert said the melons they used were a common yellow-meated variety in this area supplied by Jake West of Melrose.

The light-hearted experiment produced a large, obviously rectangular melon and a smaller melon that is only flat on a couple of sides. Hitson said the larger melon actually would have broken the box if it hadn’t been wired. The smaller one failed to grow all the way into its box size.

While the boxes were good in that they protected the melons from bugs and the elements, being inside the box made it tough to determine ripeness of the fruit.

Hebert, who once worked for Los Alamos Laboratories, is disabled by arthritis and relatively new to gardening. Hitson has lots of advice for his neighbor and the two have turned a small plot at Hebert’s place into their summer pasttime.

“It’s been fun but it’s a lot of work,” Hebert said, claiming it helps to keep him active.

Besides the watermelons he says grow well in the sandy soil, Hebert grows tomatoes, cantaloupe, zucchini squash and jalapeno peppers.

While there are no plans to market the square melons, the two say they’ll definitely expand the experiment next year. At $85 a melon, few would blame them.