Too much water — even for watermelons

July 17, 2013 

When do you go on red and stop at green? When eating watermelon! Why do watermelons have fancy weddings? Because they cantaloupe!

Watermelons tend to make us happy. Think about it -- a fruit weighing 10-40 pounds that is mostly water and sugar. And there is no way to stay clean while eating one. Watermelons conjure up images of picnics, swimming, children and other summer favorites. And one would think that with all the rain we have had lately, watermelons should be growing well in Middle Georgia -- especially in Cordele, the Watermelon Capital of the World.

Watermelons, like other fruits, do need adequate water to grow, but like other plants in Middle Georgia they have recently had a little too much of a good thing. This June was the wettest in Georgia since 2005. Macon set a new record for monthly rainfall with 12.25 inches for the month. This eclipsed the previous record of 9.91 inches set in 1923. Macon recorded the most rainfall of any major city in Georgia for June. In addition, temperatures were slightly lower due to excess cloud cover.

The excess rains and lower temperatures delayed the local watermelon crop by about two weeks. This is a serious problem for Georgia watermelon farmers because the demand for and price of watermelons decrease after July 4. For farmers to make a good profit, they need a big crop before the Fourth of July. The early melon crop in 2013 was late and somewhat smaller than in the past.

Though the season is delayed, there are plenty of melons available now. Watermelon quality may be affected as well by the weather. Wet, cloudy weather may make the early melons slightly less sweet. However, with warm and sunny weather -- this trend should turn around.

Selecting a good watermelon is difficult because you cannot see the interior. However, there are several exterior clues that can help you select a ripe melon. I use several of these to select a good melon.

As the fruit begins to ripen on the vine, the tendril (curly growth on the vine) nearest the ripe fruit will begin to die. As the fruit ripens, the ground spot (place where the melon touches the ground) will begin to turn creamy-colored or yellow. The amount of yellowing is dependent on the variety of melon. If the watermelon has stripes, as the fruit ripens the stripes will become more prominent -- the background color will fade and the stripes become more noticeable.

The surface of the melon will change as well as it ripens. It will lose its waxy bloom, and the fruit will look more dull. Also, the surface of the fruit will become a little less round and will have slightly raised areas.

Cantaloupes are a little easier to select since they have a built in ripeness indicator called “slip.” As cantaloupes (also called muskmelons) get ripe, the fruit becomes easier to pull from the vine. The stem will pull away from a ripe fruit leaving a small crater. Look for melons that have this crater after harvest. They fruit should also be well-netted and the color under the netting should be creamy-colored to tan -- not green. They might have a noticeable aroma but not all varieties do.

Honeydews can be a challenge to pick. Ripe honeydews should have a creamy yellow color. The fruit might have a good smell, especially on the stem end. The fruit should be firm but not hard and the blossom end may give to a slight pressure. Do not squeeze the fruit much when selecting one and do not buy fruits with soft spots.

Seedless watermelons actually are not always seedless. They are technically “triploid” melons. They have three sets of chromosomes and cannot produce viable seeds. Triploid watermelons will produce soft seeds, like cucumbers do. If the melons are stressed during growth, they may produce a few hard seeds.

You can find watermelons at local farmers markets (http://tinyurl.com/n48xlk4), grocery stores and the Cordele Farmers Market. You should also find other tasty produce, so use this UGA publication to know how to pick other types of vegetables as well: http://tinyurl.com/ckyjv2s.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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