The Heritage Farm Collection: 'Halbert Honey' Watermelon

The ‘Heritage Farm Collection’ debuted in the 2012 Seed Savers Exchange catalog and illustrates our latest efforts to move varieties from our seed vault to America’s dinner table.

The histories shared in the print catalog are a condensed summary of the full story. We have often collected a more complete history. We hope you enjoy this blog series, in which we publish full portraits of the varieties we are introducing (or re-introducing) in 2016.

Watermelon - 'Halbert Honey'

  • Dark green elongated fruit with tan-white tipped seeds

  • Pink flesh with a thin, somewhat delicate rind

  • Sweet flavor with a crisp juicy texture

This historic variety of watermelon was developed by Mr. H.A. Halbert of Texas and introduced in 1902 by the W. Atlee Burpee seed house. That year, the Burpee catalog described it as “new to the general public” and as a selection by Mr. H. A. Halbert of Texas “who plants for his home trade thirty acres of this original pet of his, each season...”

Many seed houses promoted it as one of the best varieties for the home garden. Thirty years after its introduction, the Steckler Seed Co. of New Orleans still called it “one of the best tasting melons on the market, a favorite.”

Despite its Southern origin, ‘Halbert Honey’ is an early maturing watermelon and became popular with Northern gardeners. In a 1907 Report of Ontario Agricultural Stations, E.E. Adams, from the Essex Vegetable Station,wrote, “Halbert Honey watermelon is about the best for home use, while Kleckley Sweets are about equal to them. Peerless and Fordhook Early are also good early varieties”.

Unfortunately, this fine watermelon dropped out of the U.S. seed trade by 1987. In 2013, former SSE curator Glenn Drowns of Sandhill Preservation Center reintroduced Halbert Honey. He obtained his version from long-time SSE member Virgil Johnson many years ago. We are pleased to join Glenn in the restoration of this historic variety.

SSE’s version of ‘Halbert Honey’ entered the Collection in 2012. We brought it in from the USDA (PI 635600) because SSE’s existing Halbert Honey variety did not match historic descriptions. An SSE member who requested our original ‘Halbert Honey’ from the Yearbook Exchange first alerted us to this problem in 2011.

USDA obtained their ‘Halbert Honey’ in 1961 from Seed Research Specialists. We have carefully compared this USDA version to historic descriptions and images of ‘Halbert Honey’, and we feel that it is an exact match.

Put it on the dinner table!

Like all watermelons, this is best eaten fresh. Serve chilled slices or cut it up into a salad with tomatoes and feta cheese.

Grow it!

This crop can be direct seeded into the soil after the last spring frost. You can also start plants indoors 3-6 weeks before the last frost date.

If you are direct seeding, plant in groups of 2-3 seeds and keep the healthiest plant that matures. Space your plants or seeds 12-18 inches apart and plant 1/2-1 in. deep.

Make sure that your soil is well fertilized as this crop is a heavy feeder and takes a lot of nutrients from the soil. Consider adding compost to the soil the year before you plant.

These plants prefer warm weather and soil so they should be grown when temperatures are over 68 degrees F. You should avoid watering them from above as damp leaves may be susceptible to disease.

The CORE Project

This project represents the efforts of our Preservation program to document our Collection through the Evaluation and the Collection Origins Research Effort (CORE).

The CORE project began in 2011. It is an effort to record the Collection’s cultural history by gathering, documenting, and sharing stewardship history. Our comprehensive Evaluation program began in 2010. Evaluation staff document Collection growouts, including morphological traits, photographs, taste evaluation, and purity assessment. These programs converge to give us a rich portrait of individual varieties in our Collection.

When we identify varieties with both a compelling story and outstanding performance traits, they are ‘short listed’ for consideration in the ‘Heritage Farm Collection.’ Most ‘Heritage Farm Collection’ introductions are either family heirlooms or historic commercial varieties that faded from commerce.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.