|CONTACT: Ernie Edmundson
Or Nancy Freeman 361-790-0103
RELEASE DATE: June 12, 2014
Happy Birthday USA!
It’s Time for Picnics and Watermelon
By Pat Baugh, Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners
When the hot weather of summer is upon us, a cold slice of watermelon can’t be beat. The botanical name of watermelon, Citrullus vulgaris, comes from the Greek work for citrus, referring to the color and shape of the fruit, and “vulgaris,” meaning common or ordinary fruit. Watermelon originated in Africa and has achieved worldwide popularity.
Watermelon has been cultivated since prehistoric times. The famous explorer, Dr. David Livingstone, found vast areas in central Africa covered with wild-growing watermelons, proving its African origin. Evidence of its cultivation in the Nile Valley dates as far back as the second millennium, BCE. Seeds were found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Watermelon is also mentioned in the Bible as one of the foods eaten by the ancient Israelites while they were in bondage in Egypt.
In the 10th century, watermelon was grown in China. By the 13th century, it had been introduced in Europe. In the 16th century, early French explorers found the fruit being cultivated in the Mississippi Valley in North America. European colonists brought watermelon to the New World, and by 1629, it was a common food in Massachusetts. By the mid-1600s, Native Americans in Florida were growing it.
In the 20th century, horticulturist Charles Fredric Andrus knowing that wilt disease was a common problem, set out to produce a disease-resistant watermelon. In 1954, “that gray melon from Charleston” came into being. Today farmers in approximately 44 states grow melons commercially. Almost all have some “Charleston Gray“ in their lineage. Georgia, Florida, Texas, California and Arizona are the United States’ largest watermelon producers. In Texas, watermelon is grown on over 42,000 acres in 100 counties, making it our state’s largest annual horticultural crop.
Watermelons need bees to pollinate their flowers. One beehive per acre is the minimum number recommended by the USDA for commercial production. If a farmer wants to grow the seedless variety, he will have to intersperse seeded ones in the rows with the seedless ones. Also, he’ll need to increase the number of bees per acre to three boxes to ensure good pollination and fruit production.
Watermelons can have red or yellow flesh. Seedless cultivars have a few soft seeds and are a bit fussier to grow. A watermelon patch needs full summer sun, fertile soil that is well drained is a must. Watermelons like slightly acid soil with a pH of 6.0-6.8, and need plenty of room to grow. Three varieties that grow in the Coastal Bend area are Sugar Baby, Charleston Grey, and Jubilee.
To prepare seed for planting outdoors, Rodale suggests soaking seeds overnight in compost tea, then pre-sprouting them indoors at 95 degrees until the root tips appear. Assuming the soil temperature is at least 70 degrees (definitely not a problem with this in June in south Texas), place several seeds in a small hill of soil. Rows should be about 8 feet apart, and the hills, 4 to 6 feet apart. Careful dusting to control striped cucumber beetle is usually required. Since melons are in the same family as squash, they have similar problems, including mosaic mold, viruses and pollination challenges.
When you go to the store to buy a watermelon how do you pick out a good one? By sound. Tap on the melon with your knuckle. If the sound is sharp and high, the melon is immature. But if there is a dull, hollow sound, chances are it is ripe. If the little curlicue stem on the melon is green, it probably is not ready. A brown, dry stem indicates ripeness. One more indicator: the melon’s underside where it was lying on the ground needs to be a large-yellow spot.
Did you know that in southern Russia a beer is made from watermelon juice? They also boil the juice down to a syrup like molasses. In some dry regions of Africa, watermelons are used as a source of water. In Asia, roasted watermelon seeds are eaten as a snack and melon halves are preserved in barrels with brine. In America, watermelon is almost exclusively eaten as a dessert. But those who have tried watermelon-rind pickles love them.
Watermelon is a health food. Two important amino acids, lycopene and citrulline, are found in watermelon. Lycopene is beneficial for the cardiovascular system and for bone health, and citrulline plays a role in many metabolic processes and is said to be important for blocking the accumulation of body fat. The melon is loaded with vitamins and minerals. How can anything that tastes so good be so good for us? Isn’t that great!
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Aransas County Office is located at 892 Airport Road in Rockport. AgriLife Extension education programs serve people of all ages, regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, handicap or national origin.