Q: How did you become the 2006 Melon King? A: I grew a 37.52kg watermelon which turned out to be the biggest entry in an annual harvest competition that attracts farmers from all over China. I have won this award eight times, but this year I was particularly happy because the overall award was based not only on the melon's weight and size - as it had been in the past - but also its sweetness, taste, appearance and overall quality. Panggezhuang county is famed as the home of melons in China and farmers in the area have been planting good watermelons for hundreds of years. Nowadays, the annual competition is part of a big festival involving melon growers throughout China, not only from Beijing, and it's a big honour among farmers if you win a prize. For this year's competition, I planted the seedlings of a dozen big watermelons specifically prepared for the contest. One won the top prize and I will give the others to friends and local officials who helped me. I won't sell them. Is planting watermelons a fun job and is there a secret to growing big and sweet melons? Planting watermelons is interesting and I really love the job, that's why I have been doing it since I was 20. I was born to be a happy farmer. But it's not an easy job; you have to spend almost all your time, patience and energy in the field if you want to plant the best melons and get a good harvest. My family, like many other families in the county, have been in the watermelon business for years. I started to learn how to grow them from my father after I left high school. When I was young, each harvest season I would ride in a horse and buggy with my father to the market in Beijing to sell our watermelons. Nature grants us a natural land of rich, sandy soil, good sunshine and low rainfall - all crucial to ensuring the sweetness of a watermelon. My father taught me a lot but I have no special tips for growing good melons except patience and the experience I have gained from working in the fields. You should be careful at each stage of the plant's growth, from raising the seedlings, preparing the ground, fertilising, watering, minimising pests, greenhouse ventilation, pollination and pruning, until the final harvest. I don't get the time for holidays during the year, not even for a short break, and not even during the winter season, when other farmers usually get the chance to take a short rest. It usually takes 120 days from planting the seedlings until the melon matures. During that period, I spend the first 30 days in the greenhouse. I spend the other 90 days checking each melon. I get really worried if the wind changes direction, and every time it happens I rush into the field for a look. Strong winds and hail inflict damage on the greenhouse. I'll let you in on a secret - our watermelons are grafted onto the vine of a gourd, which helps increase the size, productivity, quality and, more importantly, resistance to disease. But some farmers graft the melon onto pumpkin vines - these watermelons are not as sweet but they look the same. You can't tell the difference without tasting them and that's the way bad farmers cheat consumers. If there is any tip for growing a big melon, apart from the basic planting techniques which are easy to grasp, patience and care matter most. What's it like being part of a farming family? When my father was growing watermelons, people didn't have much money and the quality of melons wasn't high. The skin was too thick, they had too many seeds, there weren't many varieties and they tasted bad. So we couldn't sell them for much, only 20 or 30 fen for half a kilo. As people became better off and farmers adopted better technology, the quality rapidly improved. I have been lucky because the local government encourages farmers to plant watermelons by leasing us land. We don't pay taxes if we agree to stay and plant crops, and the government subsidises us 3,000 yuan for each greenhouse we build. Each year, I can earn 150,000 to 160,000 yuan from growing watermelons and other vegetables. I have stable production and, due to my good reputation for quality, I never have to promote my products. The wholesalers reserve my produce months or weeks ahead, and they sell out immediately after I harvest them. I have a son, 13, who is in junior middle school. My wish is that he will study hard and one day go to China Agricultural University. There, he can learn more about agriculture and help the people in the village plant more crops.