Sowing the seeds of a Watermelon festival

The 20th Beijing Watermelon Festival ended in early June in Beijing's southern Daxing district, an annual celebration that shows off the summer fruit and all other cucurbits.

The 20th Beijing Watermelon Festival was held from May 28th to June 1st in the Beijing southern Daxing district. This annual event is an opportunity to discover watermelons in all their forms and to enjoy all of the activities relating to this juicy summer fruit and other cucurbits. Unfortunately, this year's program has been somewhat eased following the earthquake which shook south-west China on May 12th.

To add to the festivities, there is nothing like a short visit to the Museum of the Watermelon, also located in the Daxing district, China's watermelon capital. The building was opened in June 2004, and offers more than 170 species. It is the only one in the country to introduce the history and the culture of watermelon.

After about an hour's visit, go to the Lao Song field. Usually bustling this time of year, the property has hosted 8,000 visitors since its opening in 1998 but now seems somewhat deserted, probably relating to the national mourning due to the disaster in Sichuan. The Olympic year won't have its watermelon carvers and eating competitions.

The owner greets visitors with a large smile in two large greenhouses which house the different agricultural products of the field: squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers and other vegetables from the same family in all forms and all colors. With great detail, several guides take care to explain the peculiarities of each variety. "The cucurbits grow very fast and are very nutritious," says one of the guides. This is probably why the Chinese government has focused on the development of research centers dedicated to these plants.

A lucrative trade

You can also harvest cucurbits on the spot. Open throughout the year, the Lao Song field always offers a variety of squash or melon cultivation even if the watermelon, sold at the minimum price of twelve euro cents per kilo, remains the favorite.

The giant pumpkin is the undisputed king of the cucurbits. With a weight approaching a hundred kilos, the monster plant, still attached to its stem, rests on a cushion and requires a stepladder for its daily maintenance. Nothing is too good for this participant in the largest pumpkin in China competition. "This is an annual event that brings together farmers from all over the country," said Lao Song while affectionately tapping his dear fruit.

"I've already won in the past. And I hope to prevail this year," he says. Despite all his care, the owner of the field is not too confident. "This pumpkin has a growth problem," he laments. "It remains fairly small. I have already succeeded in growing one of nearly 150 kilos," he adds.

You might be wondering what happens after the festivities to the competitors. Lao Song shows a perplexed face before answering: "They are bought by connoisseurs. I do not know what they do with them. When I asked them, they told me they ate them." In any case, one thing is for sure is that love of cucurbits is a lucrative trade. "I sold my 150 kilos pumpkin for 20,000 RMB (about 2,000 Euros)," he concludes with a hint of pride.

Practical Information:
Watermelon Museum (西瓜博物馆): Open daily from 9:30 AM to 5 PM. Huangcun County Culture Center, Daxing district. 大兴区黄村镇文化馆内. Tel: Admission: 20RMB.

Lao Song Field (老送瓜园): Open daily from 8 AM to 6 PM. Panggezhuang County, Daxing district. 北京市大兴区庞各庄镇. Tel: or or / Site:

Text: Edouard Beauchemin - Photos: Wang Zhuo