Patton grows Carolina Cross melons in his Union Parish patch. The melons range in size from about 15 pounds to more than 200 pounds. Patton said Brew and the LSU AgCenter help him by providing useful information and by assisting with soil tests.

"Trey also comes to production meetings I have in Union and Bienville parishes," Brew said. "We look at new varieties during these meetings, as well as talk about new research being done on cultural practices such as plastic mulching, fertilizing, insect and disease control and harvesting."

Patton has been growing watermelons for competition for about six years. His goal is to break the world record of growing a 262-pound watermelon.

"I hand-pollinate my crop," Patton said. "This way, I can be sure of what I am getting. When bees pollinate, they may bring in pollen from other fields and cross-pollinate my melons with someone else's. By pollinating myself, I am sure that my melons are my melons."

Patton started out with 24 plants this year. He walks around his field daily throwing out new melons that may hamper the growth of the others.

"This might not mean anything, but it's what I do," he said. "The melons I leave I call, 'The Chosen Ones.' These are the melons I'm going to enter in the contest, and I don't need smaller melons taking water and nutrients away from the larger ones."

Once "The Chosen Ones" have been selected, Patton said he doesn't touch them for months.

"After I choose the ones I want, I put a measuring tape under them," he said. "This way, I can measure their circumference once they get large. I also put them on a sand bed, or a well-drained bed. Then I leave them alone except to take care of the plant."

Patton also puts little shelters with roofs over "The Chosen Ones." This keeps them from being burned by the sun, he said.

Proper irrigation is another lesson Patton said he has learned from information supplied by Brew and the LSU AgCenter. He installed a computerized irrigation system this year that keeps just the right amount of moisture on his plants.

The proper irrigation, fertilizer and amount of sunshine are important to growing the winning melon, Patton said. But growing time also is important, he said.

"I'm going to the grower's breakfast Saturday morning and then I'm going to come home, load the melons and get back (to town) before the parade starts at 10 a.m.," Patton said. "I want the melons to be able to grow right up until the last minute."

Patton said he may be pretty close to the world's largest melon this year. But if he's not, that's OK. There's always next year.

"It's mostly about bragging rights," he said, "First place wins a thousand dollars. I've spent more than that this year, so I won't get my money back if I win, but I'll have bragging rights."

Brew said he holds watermelon producer meetings in February. For more information, call him at (318) 368-9935. For information on a variety of topics from growing watermelons to helping young people develop good character, go to www.lsuagcenter.com.

Denise Coolman is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: dcoolman@agcenter.lsu.edu