Bernie and Matty Jack Davies picking their famous watermelons
Bernie and Matty Jack Davies picking their famous watermelons Shannon Hardy

Melon-mania starts with the farm

WITHOUT the dedicated farmers of the area, Chinchilla would not have earned itself the reputation of melon capital and the biennial Melon Festival,that is so loved by locals and visitor alike, would not exist.

The Davies are one of many respected melon farming families in the region.

Bernie and Sandy Davies have been growing watermelons since 1990 after the wool market collapse left them looking for an alternative.

They are now well into the current picking season.

Mr Davies leases property at Condamine to grow his crop and spoke to the Chinchilla News while he and his team were picking their fifth trailer of the day, and the fourth run over a particular set of vines for the season.

"The crop's been really good,” Mr Davies said.

"We've had an ideal season really, not too much rain but we got some, and we missed the hail storm which was good, unfortunately a couple of Chinchilla growers got an early hail storm but we've been lucky.”

This year's yield and quality have been good for Mr Davies but he said that current pricing was not so good and that they were not doing much over production cost at the moment.

"But it could be worse,” Mr Davies said.

"We can be happy with a good crop and good quality.”

Almost 80% of Davies melons have been shipped to Sydney this year but the farm also supplies the Chinchilla Farmers Market and a trailer of the melons can often be found on sale around Chinchilla.

Growing watermelons, like any produce, is a process.

"It's like any crop, preparation is everything,” Mr Davies said.

"That starts 12 months out, or more.

"Gets to the season where you lay your plastic; your seedlings have to be well and truly ordered in advance, of course, like six weeks before, then you've got to rely on the weather a fair bit, you've got to have a bit of luck.”

Once picking season starts in mid December, the work continues until April with a break in the middle, thanks to a strategic planting schedule.

Bernie and Sandy's sons Matt and Chris often help out with the family business but more numbers are needed.

"I've got kids here that've worked for me for 5 or 6 years, other kids' first year, it's just a constant rotation really.

"We try to employ local kids as much as possible.”

May of the pickers are high school or university students from the local area who return each school holidays to help out.

When school is back in, backpackers or other seasonal workers often fill in the last part of the season.

Mr Davies works on an average 50 tonne per hectare but this year's yield has been high with one block estimated to produce close to 80 tonne for the hectare.

Mr Davies contributed that in part to the quality of the particular strain on melon they have at the moment.

"This particular variety is very good, there's very few reject melons, you can pick everything.”

Some reasons that a melon might be rejected include being out of shape, hollow, small or diseased.

With the 2019 Melon Festival fast approaching, now is the perfect time to get into the spirit of the festival with some quality local grow melons like the ones from the Davies' fields.

A Davies watermelon, fresh from the vine
A Davies watermelon, fresh from the vine Shannon Hardy

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