Watermelons mean summer in most places, but perhaps no more so than in Florida, the country’s No. 1 producer of this quintessential summer fruit.
They may be 92 percent water, but there’s more to growing and eating watermelon than you might think, say experts with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
- Florida grows A LOT of watermelon. Florida watermelon farmers sold 800 million pounds of watermelon last year, said Bob Hochmuth, assistant director of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, Suwannee Valley. “Watermelons are grown throughout the state, with concentrated acreage near Immokalee, Belle Glade, Arcadia and the Suwannee Valley. The Suwannee Valley produces a third of Florida’s watermelon crop,” Hochmuth said.
- Watermelon plants love sand. We’re not talking sandy beaches. “Watermelon grows best in well-drained sandy soils, which are common in areas with a lot of watermelon production,” Hochmuth said.
- Watermelons need pollinators. Like many fruits and vegetables, watermelon need pollinators to pollinate their flowers in order to reproduce. Without honeybees, native bees, wasps and the like, we would not have watermelon to enjoy, Hochmuth said.
- Watermelon farmers need science to do well. “UF/IFAS provides several key education programs for watermelon farmers throughout the year,” Hochmuth said. “Most importantly, UF/IFAS Extension agents make farm visits during the growing season to help with disease and pest identification, and other irrigation and fertilizer management decisions.”
- Watermelon is good for you. Watermelon generally considered a healthy food because of its high water content, which means each serving is relatively low in calories, said Samantha Kennedy, family and consumer sciences agent with UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County. “Most are unaware that it contains any protein or fiber, but it does, and many are surprised to learn that it has a decent amount of potassium,” Kennedy said.
- It’s a versatile ingredient. While most are familiar with eating watermelon by the slice, there are many ways to include the fruit in your snacks and meals, Kennedy said. “Add chunks of watermelon to a fresh summer salad for a bit of sweetness, or combine pureed watermelon with frozen lemonade and lime juice for a refreshing drink. You can also throw watermelon slices on the grill for a few seconds for a different twist on a familiar flavor,” she said.
- Get them while it’s hot. Watermelon is in season during the hot summer months, Kennedy said. In season produce is generally cheaper and of better quality because it doesn’t have to travel as far to get to the consumer.
- Look for heft, balance and a yellow spot. “The Watermelon Board recommends that consumers look for a melon that feels heavy for its size, and looks and feels symmetrical,” Kennedy said. One side of the watermelon should have a creamy, yellow spot—this is where the melon rested on the ground as it ripened.