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Kleckley Watermelon

Citrullus lanatus v. Kleckley Sweet

Kleckley Watermelon cut in halfThis iconic watermelon has all the classic traits you would look for: deep red flesh, oblong and large at an average of 25 pounds, and a taste that is sweet as honey, but far from cloying, with a pleasant minerality adding to its complexity.

William Alexander Kleckley (1856-1921), was born in Georgia, orphaned at an early age, and raised by relations. Kleckley perfected his watermelon in Sumpter County, Georgia and began selling seed in Bibb County, Georgia in the mid-1880s. By the 1890s it had become the favorite melon sold in Columbus, Georgia. Kleckley eventually moved to Alabama and then to Texas, making both states areas of intense cultivation. After the turn of the century, the watermelon’s fame made it a standard item in seed catalogues catering to southern and western gardeners. For a period from 1910 to 1918 it became a southern and western crop melon, and was popular enough to be one of the two categories of watermelon judge in the El Paso fair. Other centers of production include Turlock, California which catered to San Francisco's near insatiable taste for the melon when it became available in 1910. The difficulties of the variety as a crop melon became apparent in the later 1910s and it was supplanted in the fields. It became increasingly restricted to southern gardens in the 1920s.

Only a modest crop melon in the 1910s because its thin skin did not permit rail transportation, it's disease vulnerability to fusarium wilt, powdery mildew, and arthanose ended its life as a commercial field melon in the 1920s. Thereafter it was relegated to the backyards of home gardeners. Its cherished taste kept it from being entirely supplanted as a garden melon, but the numbers grown annually have been low for the last 70 years. The excellence of its taste, however, has always had a small sect of devoted growers who esteemed it above every other variety.

Today, there are several strains of “improved” Kleckley Sweets, with substantial differences. None can compete with the good flavor of the original. Small scale specialty seed companies have kept it available as a home garden crop from 1900 to the present day.

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