If you travel north of Grand Island along Highway 281, then you are probably familiar with Placke's melons at St. Libory. The business has been around for decades.
"This stand has been here since 1970," owner Jerry Placke said. "But the family has been in the business almost 80 years." It all started when Jerry's dad and his brother put melons in a wagon when he was seven or eight. "People stopped and bought his melons. So when they got older, they sold out of a pickup, and then they built a stand. It was a small stand that they would pull to the highway, until we got this permanent one. Now this one stays," Placke said.
It turns out that melons seems to grow quite well near St. Libory along Highway 281. "They always said it was because of the sandy, loam soil," Placke said. "It's perfect for watermelons, especially during drought years. "When I was in grade school in the later '60s, I believe there were ten melon businesses along Highway 281. This was called the melon strip. We are now down to just two businesses out of ten." Those two are Placke's and Helgoth's Roadside Market.
Placke is a conventional farmer along with growing the melons. "I grow soybeans, corn, and even vegetables, so I'm pretty diversified." Placke says the business has changed through the years. "When we started out, everything was seeded watermelons. Now everything's gone to seedless melons, that's all anybody knows. But seeded melons are still top of the line for sweetness."
Placke says there will always be a demand for watermelons with seeds. "It takes about 1/3 of your plants to pollinate seedless. So you've got to have seeded to get seedless," Placke said. "I think my best watermelon is the long Sangria melons with seeds in them. You just have to spit seeds," Placke said.
Remember it won't be long before the melon market will begin featuring pumpkins and gourds. Right now the stand also features tomatoes, sweet corn, eggplant and zucchini. Be sure to check out this nostalgic roadside attraction!