HEREFORDSHIRE might be well-known for its apples and cattle but the county now has a new claim to fame – as home of English watermelons.
For 19-year-old agriculture student, Joe De Pascalis, it was a personal triumph when his county-grown watermelons went on sale in Hereford's Tesco last Thursday.
Earlier this year, Joe challenged his boss at S & A Produce – where he is working as part of his course – that he could produce first rate watermelons.
His boss, at the fruit and vegetable growing company in Marden, encouraged Joe to have a go and the watermelons, which were sown in May, were harvested earlier this week.
Joe, who lives in Leominster, said: “I’m studying production horticulture and as part of my apprenticeship I have to demonstrate that I can grow produce from start to finish, overseeing every part of the process.
“Growing watermelons had never been done before on the course so I had to get special permission not only from the college but also from my boss here at S&A Produce to let me have a go. When he agreed I jumped at the chance.
“The watermelons have been like babies to me throughout the 90 day growing programme and I’ve personally tended to them three times a day to make sure they were getting just the right amount of feed.”
The watermelons are now on sale in Hereford's Tesco store as well as in Royston, Hertfordshire, priced at £2 each.
Tesco produce manager, James Cackett, said: “These watermelons taste so good that we don’t think shoppers will be able to tell the difference between them and the imported ones sold on high streets from Spain and Brazil.
“The sweetness level is very good and they are standard size, weighing about between one and three kilos each. We have chosen the varieties that are popular with shoppers.
“This is just a trial to see what shoppers think of them but if the reaction is good then we will work with the growers to get more for next year.
“Joe has clearly done a very good job growing them and in doing so made a mark on British agriculture. His college and S&A Produce can be very proud of him.”
The watermelons only needed artificial heating at the germination stage and this came from a biomass woodchip burner which significantly reduces the carbon footprint of other heating methods. Once planted, they received no additional heating.