Cloud County is where you want to live if your goal is to grow a giant Kansas gourd.
But only if you have the guts to get involved in a Kansas State Fair rivalry.
This year’s giant gourd competition, where prizes are awarded to growers of both the biggest pumpkin and the biggest watermelon, was an interesting one.
A newbie competitor from a Kansas town known for its annual Watermelon Festival managed to grow the year’s biggest watermelon, and in the process, he set a State Fair record. His mega melon was one pound heavier than the one entered by a Kansas State Fair growing veteran, who produced this year’s biggest pumpkin.
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The watermelon grower was Calvin Beeson, who lives in Clyde — the town in Cloud County known for its Watermelon Festival. (The 119th festival just happened over Labor Day weekend.)
Beeson, who entered the fair for the first time, grew a 198 pounder, which was 11 pounds heavier than last year’s winner. That 187-pounder, grown by Jacob Prochaska, was the previous record holder.
Beeson’s big melon outweighed Tony Prochaska’s second-place melon by just one pound. (Tony is Jacob’s dad.)
It was a heartbreaker, Tony admitted, but his consolation came in the form of the top prize in the pumpkin growing competition. Tony entered a 841-pounder — the third largest pumpkin ever entered in the fair. The biggest, grown by Donovan Mader in 2015, weighed 1,034 pounds. The second-biggest was grown by Brian Stanley in 2007 and weighed 976.2 pounds.
Two years ago, Tony won the prizes for both the biggest melon and the biggest pumpkin.
“I swept it two years ago and was the first one to do that,” he said. “I wanted to do it again, but these guys came in from Clyde and beat me by a pound.”
Tony says that all the gourd growers in the state have a little friendly competition going, but his new-found rivalry with Beeson is extra serious because they live on opposite ends of Cloud County.
It was a good year for gourd growing, Tony said, but the rain wasn’t helpful.
“We had too much rain, actually,” he said. “We could have grown them a lot bigger if we hadn’t had so much rain.”
The giant pumpkin and the record-setting watermelon are both on display at in the Pride of Kansas Building through Sunday, when the 2018 Kansas State Fair closes in Hutchinson.