We went to Erzurum to see how they grow watermelon in spite of the cold climate and learned that approximately 100 tons of watermelons are raised in the Pasinler district of Erzurum within the Rural Development Project carried out cooperatively by the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Corporation and Atatürk University.
Erzurum is mostly known for its chilly weather. Famed Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi exaggerated about how cold the province was, saying, “It is so cold in Erzurum that a cat froze as it was jumping from one housetop to another.”
On the other hand, watermelons need warm weather to grow. Considering these facts, it is confusing to see that watermelons raised in Erzurum are as tasty as the ones raised in warm climes. Moreover, neither their shape nor their flavor is different. Residents of Erzurum are also very surprised at the situation. They are very pleased with the outcome though -- so much so that watermelon sellers write “local watermelon” in capital letters on labels.
So, who are the initiators of this crazy project? Raising watermelons is part of the “Sustainable Rural Development Project” that was started a few years ago. The project is carried out cooperatively by the BTC Corporation and Atatürk University. They grew a small number of watermelons for four years. This year, the land used for growing watermelons was broadened, as they had had a satisfactory harvest in previous years. Approximately 100 tons of watermelon were harvested from the lands of Muhammed Bağdigen and Yaşar Demircioğlu, two residents of the Pasinler district of Erzurum.
Rocky fields are suitable for watermelon raising
Project coordinator Professor Mükerrem Kaya from the food engineering department of Atatürk University thinks the project turned out successful because the producer also contributes to the process financially. Therefore, the producer gets involved in the business. The Watermelon Raising Project costs TL 30,500 and BTC gave TL 11,500 to support it.
Associate Professor Atilla Dursun from the garden plants department at the faculty of agriculture is occupied with the practical part of the project. We asked him how watermelons are raised in Erzurum. First of all, he pointed to the surface of the land, which is rock and therefore not suitable to regular farming. Dursun informed us, however, that this kind of land was suitable for watermelon raising. Even the warmth of the stones on the land helps the roots of the watermelons grow. The second point that makes watermelon raising possible in Erzurum is that they use the drip irrigation method.
They grow watermelons from seed, as is the traditional method. They plant the seeds in May and in the second week of July the seedlings are transplanted to the land. This schedule is very important because the earlier period is the most likely time for hail. Farmers can avoid the hail if they abide by the schedule. The last week of August is generally time to harvest.
We tasted the watermelons and they are really delicious. Dursun attributes their taste to the difference in temperature between day and night. He explains that this difference causes starch to turn into sugar, which results in better taste and flavor.
They call me ‘innovative farmer’
Although some farmers are now growing watermelons on their land, the first watermelon was raised by Bağdigen. He defines himself an “innovative farmer.” Apart from watermelon raising, he also uses many innovations. For instance, he is the first greenhouse farmer and the first person to use drip irrigation. On his first try he allocated a small portion of his land to watermelons. This year he allocated all 18 acres of his land to watermelon raising and the results were quite satisfactory. He expresses content with his decision, saying, “I did not expect it to come out on the first try, but now I am harvesting the best watermelons.”
Another farmer who raises watermelons in Pasinler is Demircioğlu. He jumped into watermelon growing because he was impressed by the success of other farmers. He is also content. He intends to join his sunflower field to his watermelon field and allocate all of it to watermelons.
Pick your watermelon from the farm
You may also come across interesting sights in Erzurum. For instance, take Uğur Bekmez, who sells watermelon on the side of the road near the watermelon field. He is a university student and Demircioğlu's nephew. Bekmez, who we saw standing near his uncle's watermelon field, sells his uncle's watermelons on the side of the road every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. He is not experienced in the job and he is not doing it to compete with other farmers, either. He just sells watermelons at Kr 75 per kilogram, 200 kilograms of watermelon per day. A sign on the table reads “local watermelon” in capital letters. He notes that some customers do not believe they are locally grown. In order to convince them, he takes them to the farm and lets them choose a watermelon from the field.
Ambulance drops by for watermelon
According to local watermelon farmers, the interest they receive is surprising at times. They have even experienced some amusing events. Bağdigen says one day he saw an ambulance in front of his house as he was returning from work. Getting very worried, he rushed to the house, only to discover that the driver of the ambulance had previously bought a watermelon from him and liked it so much that he dropped by to buy another, as he was in Pasinler for work.
Another story comes from Demircioğlu. A businessman who owns a tractor manufacturing factory in İstanbul stopped by when he saw the watermelon field on the side of the road. He bought one melon and moved on. He liked it so much that he later phoned Pasinler to order watermelons for İstanbul.
A contribution to rural development
BTC is the corporation that brought the BTC oil pipeline project to life, thereby enabling Azerbaijani oil to be delivered to Ceyhan, a district of Adana, through Georgia and Turkey, and to the world market from Ceyhan. It was founded in 2001. The corporation also carries out activities to protect and improve the oil pipeline's surroundings and to contribute to the development of communities around the pipeline. One of their investment programs is the Social Investment Program (TYP), which aims to support the “sustainable rural development” of areas around the pipeline. TYP contributes to the improvement and development of main sources of income, to creating new sources of income and to the development of local assemblies in order to maintain a sustainable influence in 330 villages.