KINGMAN It's too bad rabbits got to the first watermelons Gary Meland planted in the spring.
Had they made it to full maturity, he might have picked up a blue ribbon at the Mohave County Fair. He planted more seeds and got some big melons, but not in time for the fair.
"Everybody told me to enter (my second-planted crop)," Meland said. "But I was told entries had to be in by Aug. 15, and these were not ready.
"Everybody who has seen the second plantings says I would have won first place with no problem."
Meland planted watermelon seeds that are supposed to take 90 days to reach full maturity once they appear as tiny melons on the vine. The one he still has growing at the Kingman home of Pat Gnodle, to whom he is engaged, measures 29-1/2 inches long and 39-1/2 inches around.
He expects to harvest it in the next week and will put it on a scale then. He estimates its weight at 100 pounds and plans to invite about 30 people over to eat the melon.
"We harvested a 70-pounder here (on Sept. 22) that measured 26 inches long by 34 inches around," Meland said.
"We had 16 people over for two slices apiece, and we gave five other people two to four slices each," he said.
Gnodle said that melon was sweet clear down to the white rind. She waters the melon still on the vine every other day.
Meland used a tiller to prepare Gnodle's backyard for planting He put in two 20-pound bags of steer manure as fertilizer and a bale of alfalfa to loosen up the soil in the 10-foot by 25-foot garden.
He enclosed the garden with chicken wire to keep out birds and rabbits, but not in time to save his first planting of watermelons.
"Gardening in Arizona is a never-ending learning experience," Meland said. "You've got to learn something new every year to fend off animals and insects."
Gnodle has been kept busy with the garden's bounty. It includes tomatoes, bell peppers, radishes, lettuce, green beans, onions, zucchini and carrots.
"I've been teasing Gary that he's going to raise all flowers next year," Gnodle said. "No produce because I'm getting tired of cooking and freezing."
The plus side of the work is that they seldom have to buy produce in a store.
Meland was born in Sisseton, S.D., and grew up on his parents' 2,000-acre farm. They raised cattle, sheep and hogs, with most of what they grew going to feed the livestock.
He said he worked for more than 20 years as a farm tractor mechanic and did framing work in Minnesota for two years until suffering a herniated neck disc that required bone-grafting surgery.
He then moved from Hopkins, Minn., to Kingman in April 1996. In August of that year, he was stacking tires at a business east of Kingman when one fell off the rack and struck him in the head.
That mishap "messed up his back" and led to him taking retirement disability.
Meland owns a home in Golden Valley. He said he harvested a 50-pound watermelon there last year.
His home garden includes three types of squash, zucchini, watermelons, cantaloupes, pumpkins, green beans and broccoli.
"I was raised in cold climates," Meland said. "But I lived in Hawaii (on the island of Kauai) for a year and liked the warmer weather there and in Arizona, so I moved here."
In addition to gardening, Meland enjoys woodworking and dancing.
Neighbors is a feature that appears Mondays in the Kingman Daily Miner. If you have an interesting story you'd like to share, contact Terry Organ at 753-6397, ext. 225.