How watermelon came to North American shores, the origin and history of this vegetable, and the nutrition and how to harvest watermelons can be found at:

There is nothing that can cool your innards and soothe your displeasure with a hot summer day better than watermelon. Watermelon is the sweetest member of that vast family of 700 species called Cucurbitaceae. Watermelon's closest kin in this family are cucumbers, gourds, cantaloupes, pumpkins and
squash. All species are indigenous to the tropics and are characterized by their trailing vines, climbing tendrils and hairy leaves. The botanical name for watermelon is Citrullus lanatus. The only other cultivated species in the Citrullus genus is the citron melon, which has hard, white flesh and is used for preserves and pickling.

The watermelon comes in one of three shapes. It can have a symmetrical shape that is round as a basketball, oval as a football or stretch out into an oblong, cylindrical form.

"Red" is another word that seems to define all watermelons. It's true that in most varieties, the flesh color of watermelons ranges from light to deep red but several varieties have yellow or orange flesh. The varieties with unusual flesh color, such as yellow, taste as sweet and juicy as their red cousins but become over-ripe much faster than do the red-fleshed types.

I don't know how many of you were raised in a farming community where watermelons were grown but if you were, I can tell you the first memory you have when you see a watermelon. The fondest memory of your childhood experiences with watermelons was sneaking into your grandpa's or neighbor's field on a hot summer day, busting the biggest, ripest melon you could find and eating the "heart" or center out of the watermelon. You didn't seem to mind that juice running down your face and over your chin---that was living the "good life" and the best eating in the world. I can even tell you the name of the watermelon variety you enjoyed as a child--it was named Black Diamond. The reason you enjoyed that watermelon experience so much is because the center or "heart" of those watermelons didn't have any of those pesky seed--just pure, juicy watermelon. Those were the good old days but scientists have now improved the annoying seed-spitting problem and created watermelons which have all "heart" all the way to the rind. It is referred to as a seedless watermelon and it is sweeter tasting and firmer-meated than any Black Diamond that ever existed. This doesn't mean these seedless watermelons will supercede your childhood memories--remember, half the fun was sneaking into the watermelon patch and eating the best part of the summer thirst quencher named watermelon. You also had more taste buds then!!!

Some of the old-timers were SERIOUS about discouraging watermelon thief

For those who love watermelon but don't want to engage in a seed-spitting contest with each bite. Seedless watermelons have an oval to round shape and can have either red or yellow flesh. A seedless watermelon may have some white seed-like structures that are edible. Don't think just because these watermelons are seedless that all varieties are super-sweet and yield lots of watermelons. Nope!! Every seedless variety is different and performs differently at each planting site. So growers won't have to do the testing, the Texas Cooperative Extension conducts tests in all regions of Texas to see which seedless and non-seedless varieties perform the best in our conditions. Some of the results and images can be seen at:

Over 40 watermelon varieties are tested each year in several locations all over the state to determine which are the best for Texas growers.

When conducting these tests, we are often reminded of some historical warnings about eating too much watermelon. Mediterranean traders introduced watermelon to Europe where it was known as the "Turkie Melon." Books from the 16th century show that the sweet thirst quencher was not looked on with the delight we accord it today. John Gerard, writing in The Herbal cautions his readers that "This fruit should be eaten by Europeans with great caution; when taken in the heat of the day, whilst the body is warm, colics and other bad consequences often ensue."

If you will closely examine the data provided at the Watermelon Variety Trial website above, you will realize that each year we evaluated approximately 25 seedless varieties and 20 standard, seeded varieties. We use volunteers to do the taste tests and I try to make all testers understand that if you take one small bite of 45 watermelons, YOU HAVE LITERALLY EATEN AN ENTIRE WATERMELON! However, after a hot, sweaty day of sorting watermelon varieties and then tasting the sweetest, juiciest watermelon meat this side of Heaven, some of my anxious volunteers (namely Yolanda, Francine and Liz!) became somewhat ravenous when "tasting" the first 10 varieties. After these ladies exhibited a rather savage display of consumption, they spent the rest of the day "enjoying" the nearest toilet facilities. For some reason they each had an empty bucket close at hand for the ride back from Crystal City. We began the watermelon taste testing with over 15 anxious volunteers ----by the time we cut the last sample, only 8 were left standing!

Some of our eager volunteers can't wait to ruin their digestive systems with wonderful seedless watermelons!

The obvious question asked about growing seedless watermelons is: "How does one obtain seed for growing a seedless watermelon?" Obviously, you cannot save seed from a seedless watermelon. So, where do the seeds come from? Simply stated, the number of chromosomes (the threadlike bodies within cells
that contain the inheritance units called genes) in a normal watermelon plant is doubled by the use of the chemical colchicine. Doubling a normal (diploid) watermelon results in a tetraploid plant (one having four sets of chromosomes). When the tetraploid plant is bred back, or pollinated, by a diploid or normal plant, the resulting seed produces a triploid plant that is basically a "mule" of the plant kingdom, and it produces seedless watermelons. Seed of recommended seedless and seeded varieties can be purchased from the list at:

Poor seed germination is the main problem with growing seedless watermelons. When planting seed directly into the garden, the soil temperature should be minimum of 70 degrees F. at a depth of 4 inches. Soil temperatures below 70 degrees F. will reduce germination and emergence. If transplants are
grown, which is the recommended practice since each seedless seed can cost more than a quarter, the greenhouse temperature should be 75 to 85 degrees F. during the germination period. Sow seeds into a pre-moistened growing medium and do not water again until germination occurs. Begin watering, as
needed, after 10 to 15 percent of the seedlings have emerged. Plants should be ready for transplanting in 3 to 4 weeks. Transplants should have not more than 3 true leaves (the first et of "fat leaves" to appear are cotyledons rather than true leaves) when set in the field. Use of older, larger transplants can cause slow, stunted growth and poor yields. In-row and between-row spacing is generally 48 X 80 inches.

The male and female flowers are born separately on the watermelon plant. Female flowers must be pollinated for fruit to set. Also, cross pollination must occur between a seedless and a regular type watermelon for seedless fruit to be produced. Seedless watermelon plants do not produce enough fertile pollen to make melons. Approximately one-third of the plants in the garden should be of the standard or 'pollinator' variety. One pollinator plant should be grown for every two seedless watermelon plants. The pollinator watermelon should have a rind color or pattern different from that of the seedless watermelon. Come harvest time, the gardener can easily tell which melons have seeds and which don't, based on the differing rind color. Honey bees are the principal insects that pollinate watermelons. Pollination is a must, and poor or partial pollination may result in misshapen fruit and no seedless melons.

When harvesting, the lower side or 'ground spot' of the fruit should be cream-colored or yellowish. The tendril or 'tail' which occurs in the axils of leaves (where the leaf attaches to the vine) along the stem can be used as an indicator of ripeness. Experienced harvesters say that if the 2 tendrils nearest the fruit are dry, the seedless watermelon is ripe. It is important to note that the first few mature melons in the garden may frequently contain small seeds. This condition is most prevalent under stressed conditions, such as low soil moisture, insufficient fertilizer, temperature extremes, or disease pressure, which affect normal plant development.

Each planting of seedless watermelons actually produces 3 different types of watermelons -- the regular seeded watermelons (from pollinator plants), the true seedless melons, and a light-green tetraploid melon that produces a very limited number of seeds, from which next year's planting can be made.

Even though just over a month old Cody Knight a chip off of his granddad's block knows the difference between a seedless triploid on his left and an imposter tetraploid on his right!

Whole, uncut watermelons will retain their texture and flavor for a week or more if stored away from sunlight at temperatures of 50 to 60 F. Lower temperatures may cause a loss of flavor. Once sliced, the melons may be refrigerated for a few days.

A water content of 90% makes watermelon a low calorie sweet treat. A 4 by 8 inch slice has only 111 calories which means guilt free enjoyment along with the benefit of vitamins and minerals. A wedge of watermelon provides two-thirds of the adult daily requirement of vitamin C. Compare to an orange, it contains nearly twice as much vitamin A and has more potassium too.

So get to eating and help yourself cool off during this hot Texas' summer! If you need to keep your children entertained, look what you can do with the watermelon's rind.



Three tips to pick out a sweet watermelon

When it comes time to pick the perfect melon, people often make their selection based on three characteristics: presence of seeds or lack thereof, size and ripeness.

Typically, a producer measures the sweetness of a watermelon by their Brix count, a way to measure sweetness. On this scale, measurements of 10 are standard and measurements of 11 are considered very sweet.

According to Juan Anciso, Ph.D., a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service vegetable specialist in Weslaco and professor with the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, this year's Brix count measures watermelon sweetness, especially those from the Rio Grande Valley, off the charts between 11 and 13.

However, just because this year's crop of watermelons is a higher quality, it does not mean the melon you pick will be the best of the bunch. The following three tips will teach you how to pick the best watermelon.

Tip 1: Find the yellow belly, or the field spot

Other than cutting open a watermelon to see the inside, the field spot is perhaps the best indicator of the ripeness. This spot on a melon shows where it was laying on the ground while attached to the vine.

If the watermelon is ripe, the field spot should be a large, yellow patch on one side of the melon. If it is ripe, the color should be a creamy, almost butter-like yellow. The bigger the yellow belly and the creamier the color means the more time the melon spent ripening on the vine. However, if the spot is smaller or looks whiter than yellow, then the melon may not be as ripe.

Tip 2: Tap the underbelly and listen for a deep sound

Another way to find a ripe watermelon is to lightly knock the outside with your knuckles. A ripe melon will have a deeper sound, as opposed to an over-ripe one that will have a more hollow or flat sound. A duller, more hollow sound can mean the flesh is starting to go soft and spoil.

Tip 3: Look for a dull and heavy watermelon

Although it may not be the most photogenic nor the easiest to carry to your car, the best watermelons will be dull in appearance and heavier than the rest. A shiny melon indicates the insides are under ripe.

Also, the best melon of the bunch will most likely be heavier than the rest. On average, a watermelon is 92% water, which makes them so juicy. A heavier melon likely holds more water, which will make it juicier.



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