Peak watermelon season is here

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Nothing says summer like watermelons. Watermelons are often a must at our summer cookouts and are a wonderful treat during hot summer days.

Watermelons are grown across the United States. The top four states are Texas, Florida, Georgia and California producing 69% of all grown in the United States. In terms of production, watermelon is one of the three top crops produced in the country, along with onions and head lettuce.

Over 113,000 acres of watermelons were grown in the United States in 2017, producing 20 million pounds. All but about 24% of domestic consumption of watermelons comes from United States growers; the rest comes primarily from Mexico or Central American countries. China, however, is the leading producer of melons.

North Carolina ranks 8th in the United States for watermelon production (2018). Wayne County is one of the top watermelon producing counties in North Carolina. Over 6,500 acres of watermelons were grown in the state in 2017 with a value of close to $21,000.

Watermelons are grown for the fresh market. Large-scale producers (usually more than 20 acres) generally use brokers who provide the marketing services to the producers. Watermelons are in season from July through August. It takes 80 to 95 days for a watermelon to become full-grown.

There are many varieties of watermelons (over 1,200) that vary in size and flavor. The four main categories are seeded, seedless, icebox and yellow/orange. All of them depend on honeybees for pollination. Seedless varieties are in increasing demand.

A common question is usually “How do you get a seedless watermelon?”

Let’s see if we can clarify without diving too deep into a genetics or plant breeding lesson. Getting a seedless watermelon is all about the genetics. Seedless watermelons are triploid meaning they have three sets of chromosomes (normally they are diploid meaning two chromosomes). This odd number of chromosomes results in them being sterile and not producing seeds. They become triploid by cross breeding a male diploid (2 sets of chromosomes) with a female tetraploid (4 sets of chromosomes). When breeding for new varieties watermelon plants have separate male and female flowers, so the undesirable flower can be removed to create the cross for a seedless watermelon. That’s the story about how we get a seedless watermelon!

Watermelons can get large. Next time check out some of the largest watermelon entries at the state fair or local fairs in our area. The heaviest watermelon to date weighed in at 350.5 pounds and was grown by Guinness World Record holder Chris Kent, of Sevierville, Tennessee, in 2013.

Watermelons are made up of approximately 92% water. The juicy fruit is cholesterol, fat and sodium free. It is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and is only 80 calories per a 2-cup serving. One large watermelon can feed up to three dozen people making it one of the most budget-friendly fruits.

How to know when it’s ripe

So how do you go about selecting a ripe watermelon? Ever seen someone thumping a watermelon to determine if it is ripe and wondered what they are listening for?

A ripe melon should have a nice, deep sound, like a drum or knocking on a door. Another, maybe easier way to determine if a watermelon is ripe and ready to eat is to look at the bottom of the watermelon. The bottom of watermelons where it was touching the ground when in the field should be a creamy yellow in color instead of white.

If you are looking for where to purchase fresh, local watermelons, be sure to stop by the Farm Credit Farmers Market. The market is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market is located behind The Maxwell Center at 3114 Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro.

To celebrate watermelon season, the Farm Credit Farmers Market will be holding a Watermelon Day on Friday, July 26.

We will be having a watermelon recipe contest for those who have a delicious dish featuring watermelons that is blue ribbon worthy! The contest is open to all ages. Entries will be received from 1 to 1:30 p.m. The recipe must include at least 1 cup of watermelons. Contestants must be present during the contest and may enter more than one recipe. The recipe must be homemade, prepared at home, and presented ready to serve three to four judges. Recipes must be presented with the entry as the first place winning recipe will be published in local media outlets.

Along with a watermelon recipe contest, there will also be a food demonstration by Michelle Estrada, Wayne County Extension Family & Consumer Science agent to give ideas for a new recipe featuring watermelons to try, along with getting to sample the featured recipe.

Be sure to include fresh, local watermelons with your summer meals and celebrate watermelon season by attending Watermelon Day on July 26.

Got gardening questions? We can help! Contact the Wayne County Extension Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Call the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic at 919-731-1433, e-mail Master.Gardener@waynegov.com, or stop by the Wayne County Extension Office at The Maxwell Regional Agricultural & Convention Center, 3114-B Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro.

Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent specializing in horticulture for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.

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    Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs

    Plant Propagation Basics: Wednesday, Aug. 14 – 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Wayne County Extension Office in The Maxwell Center, 3114-B Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro. The workshop will cover how you can increase your garden by learning the many different methods for creating new plants from seeds to cuttings. Registration fee is $5. Pre-registration is not required. Arrive a few minutes early to register.

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