Male and female watermelons

What Does a Watermelon Plant Look Like: A Visual Guide

In this article: Learn the answer to the question What does a watermelon plant look like? And how to tell the difference between a watermelon plant and cucumber or other melons.

When seedlings are small it can be hard to tell the difference between different cucurbits. (Cucurbits are a family of plants that include watermelon, cucumbers, melons, squash, and gourds).

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But as the plants grow differences emerge that make it easier to identify which plant is which.

So if you are new to gardening and didn’t label your seeds well. Or if you just have a mystery plant growing in your yard and want to know what it is. This guide will help you determine what a watermelon plant looks like and how to tell the difference between other cucurbits.

What Does a Watermelon Plant Look Like: A Picture Guide

As I mentioned, in the seedling stage when cucurbits only have a couple of leaves cucumbers and watermelons looks pretty close to identical.

You can usually tell squash apart because squash plants tend to be larger, have thicker stems, and grow faster.

But once the true leaves emerge you will easily be able to tell the difference between these plants.

Step 1: Look at the True Leaves

Below is a picture of a young watermelon plant:

As you can see, it has lobed leaves. These deep lobes are characteristic of all watermelon plants.

Some might compare it to the shape of an oak leaf.

In contrast, below is a picture of a cucumber leaf:

You can see that the cucumber leaf is more triangular in shape, with somewhat serrated edges.

Just like the watermelon leaf can be compared to an oak, a cucumber leaf can be compared to a maple.

And finally, below is a picture of a cantaloupe melon leaf:

This one is somewhere in between. It is more rounded than a cucumber, but not as deeply lobed as a watermelon plant.

Related Reading: How to Grow Watermelon from Seed to Harvest

Step 2: How Does the Plant Vine?

Another difference between watermelon plants and cucumber plants is their vining behavior.

Both crops are vining and will send out long vines from the main stem.

Watermelon plants however do not form very dense umbrella above the developing fruits. The leaf cover is further apart and soil will be visible beneath.

Below is a watermelon vine:

Cucumber plants however form a very dense cover. This shades the fruits and the soil.

Below is a cucumber vine:

Step 3: Look at the Developing Fruits

The fruits of these developing cucurbits are an easy, tell-tale way of figuring out if you have a watermelon plant or a cucumber.

If after looking at the true leaves and vines, you still don’t know if what you have is a watermelon, then it’s time to look at the fruits. All of these plants have both male and female flowers and the fruits will develop under the female flowers.

Below is a developing watermelon fruit:

As you can see it looks very much like a tiny little watermelon. Round or oval in shape, with some striping.

Now for a cucumber fruit:

Again, it looks very much like a small cucumber. Oblong in shape with spines.

And finally, a cantaloupe melon:

This one doesn’t look quite like a cantaloupe, the mottling on the skin that cantaloupes are known for won’t come until much later. But many melons are somewhat fuzzy when they are small.

Okay, so those are 3 different things to look at when you find yourself asking yourself “what does a watermelon look like??”

I would like to note one more thing, which is cross pollination. Many different cucurbits can cross pollinate with each other, which means if your mystery plant is a self planted seed from compost or from last year’s garden, and you grow lots of different cucurbits in close quarters, you may end up getting a hybrid plant.

Though, not all cucurbit will cross pollinate together, so in most cases if you identify your plant as a watermelon, it will likely still be a watermelon and not an odd cucumber-melon hybrid. Here’s a good article explaining the cross pollination of cucurbits.

Check out more gardening articles:

How to Get Rid of Cucumber Beetles Naturally
The Best Essential Oils for the Garden
7 Tips for Growing the Best Cucumbers

1. Look at the spots

fabulousfarmgirl.com

You’ve probably noticed large white spots on you watermelons. These spots, called “field spots” in fact reveal where the watermelon rested on the earth. The spots vary in color, from pale white to deeper shades of beige/gold. Aim for gold.

2. The size

Wikipedia

The bigger the better, right? Not when it comes to watermelons. A watermelon should also feel heavy when you lift it, otherwise it may indicate that its juicy melon flesh has dried out. And nobody wants that.

3. Look at the stalk

Take a look at the melon’s ‘tail to help determine if the fruit is ripe or not. A ripe watermelon has a dried stalk. If the stalk is green, the melon was harvested too early and will not be ripe.

4. Brown ‘webbing’?

Does the melon have a brown, spider web-like pattern? Grab it. These indicate the amount of times that bees touched the flower. The more pollination, the sweeter the watermelon.

5. Hit the melon

A more well-known trick is to give the melon a tap. If the melon is juicy and ripe, it will give off a dull, hollow sound. Over-ripe or unripe watermelons won’t let out the noise.

Think these tricks may come in handy the next time you’re on the hunt for a juicy watermelon? Please share these tips to give your family and friends the upper hand, too!

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Watermelon Plant Not Producing: How To Get Watermelons To Fruit

Watermelon is pretty much synonymous with summertime and is likely found at nearly every summer celebration from the Fourth of July, Labor Day or Memorial Day BBQ to the company picnic. With such popularity, many people try to grow their own, and in so doing, encounter difficulties such as a watermelon plant that is not producing. The question then is how to get watermelon to fruit?

Help! Why is My Watermelon Plant Not Producing?

There may be a couple of reasons for no fruit set on watermelons. First of all, it’s a good idea to go over how to plant watermelon to eliminate any mistakes.

You’ll want to choose the variety of watermelon to plant. They come in all different sizes, from 3 pounds to over 70 and with red to yellow flesh. A couple of the big boys are Jubilee, Charleston Grey and Congo while smaller, globe shaped melons include Sugar Baby and Ice Box. Consult a watermelon production guide in a nursery catalog or online for other varieties.

Hopefully, you realize that melons in general adore sun and need to germinate at temps over 70 degrees F. (21 C.), with an optimal growing temperature of between 80 and 90 degrees F. (26-32 C.) in an area with eight hours or more of full sun. If your temps don’t get warm enough, black plastic can aid in warming the soil and you may need to go as far as building a greenhouse over the plants.

Either sow or transplant watermelon in soil that is loamy, fertile, and well draining; till some compost into the soil. The soil pH should be between 6.0 and 6.8. Plant the watermelon in mounds spaced 2-6 feet apart. Keep the soil moist during germination, which takes between seven and 10 days. The plants should be mulched around the base once they are 4 inches tall. This will aid in moisture retention, retard weeds and keep the soil from overheating while the roots are young and tender.

If you’ve followed the above instructions for proper planting and still end up with no fruit set on watermelons, you probably have an issue with pollination.

How to Get Watermelon to Fruit

Since improper planting technique has been ruled out, the culprit for a watermelon plant with no fruit is likely incomplete pollination. Poor pollination is common among the cucurbit family, which includes:

  • Cucumbers
  • Squash
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon

Many cucurbits have both male and female flowers. The pollen from the male flower needs to be moved, usually by bees, to the female bloom. If there is insufficient bee activity, not enough pollen will be delivered to properly fertilize the female flowers. The result will be either no fruit or malformed fruit. The flowers can be pollinated by hand in the absence of bees. First, you must distinguish between the male and female flowers, which are both yellow. Female flowers are attached to the plant by what appears as an immature watermelon, while males are attached by only a thin greenish stem.

Once you have ascertained which bloom is which, using a small paint brush or even a cotton swab, gently remove the pollen from the male plant and transfer to the female. Place the pollen on the stigma, which is a raised area in the center of the open female flower. This is best done in the morning right after the flowers have opened.

Additionally, when initiating a watermelon or any cucurbit planting, it is a good idea to plant companion plants that attract bees nearby to even the odds for pollination.

In some instances, too much nitrogen fertilizer may be to blame. This results in abundant foliage growth with little to no flowering, which means no watermelon fruit. Adding a high phosphorus fertilizer or bone meal around your plants can help offset this.

I know many of you are probably thinking, “Duh, it’s a fruit!”, but you might be surprised to learn that many people classify it as a vegetable. Just ask the folks in Oklahoma, where watermelon is the official state vegetable. Being the fact finder that I am, I did some digging to get to the bottom of this dilemma.

Something that tastes that sweet and delicious has to be a fruit, right?

Actually, no, but we’ll get back to that later. The distinction between fruit and vegetable goes beyond our taste buds and often has more to do with specific botanical classifications.

But it’s a type of melon, and other melons, like honeydew melons and cantaloupes, are fruits, so doesn’t that make the watermelon a fruit?

It’s true that watermelon and other melons like the honeydew and cantaloupe (which are fruits) are in the Cucurbitaceae family, but the watermelon is in the Citrullus genus, which is an important distinction between the two types of produce.

This is a lot of scientific stuff. What’s the technical definition of a “fruit”?

Good question. The dictionary defines “fruit” as “the ripened ovary (pistil) of a seed plant and its contents which includes the seeds.” This includes things like apples, oranges and cherries. These are ripened ovaries that include seeds of the plant that bore them. A broader definition of a fruit is anything that contains seeds.

Just like watermelons! Problem solved!

Not quite. Under that definition, squash and green beans are fruits, even though most people would consider them vegetables. And don’t bother reading the definition of a “vegetable” because you won’t find much clarification there.

Great. So what’s the definition of a “vegetable?”

Our vague friend, the dictionary, defines vegetable as “anything made or obtained from plants.” Basically, that means all fruits are also vegetables.

So much for consulting the dictionary for clarification. Who makes these rules and why are they trying to confuse us?

The “rules” over what is or is not a vegetable are not set in stone and are often open to subjective interpretation. In many cases, the distinction is made based on how the produce is used and how it tastes. This is referred to as a culinary distinction.

For example, using culinary distinctions (related to our first question about taste), things that are low in fructose (i.e. sugar) and have a savory taste are considered vegetables, and things that are sweeter are considered fruits. To further clarify the vegetable family, most people consider vegetables to be the leaves, stems, stalks and roots of certain plants, which helps to define why celery, carrots, lettuce and onions are all, unequivocally, vegetables.

So, from a culinary perspective, sweet things are fruits and not-sweet things are vegetables?

Essentially. Not to get sidetracked, but the fact that fruits have seeds (botanically speaking) and are sweet (culinarily speaking) is an important part of the biological process. The sweet aspect of fruit encourages many animals to eat it, and when they relieve themselves later, they spread the seeds along with some built-in fertilizer.

Yum.

That’s what the deer said when he discovered the apple orchard. And not to throw you a curveball, but it should also be noted that some things can be both fruits and vegetables.

That doesn’t sound quite right.

It’s true. Bell peppers and tomatoes are considered vegetables because they’re savory and low in fructose, even though they have seeds, which technically makes them fruits.

In a botanical or scientific sense, pumpkins, cucumbers and squash are all fruits because they have seeds. However, in a culinary sense, these items are all vegetables. Therefore, they’re both!

They’re fregetables?

You can call them that if you want, but people might look at you funny.

In some cases, the distinction between fruit and vegetable has even been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, as in the 1893 case of Nix v. Hedden. Under U.S. tariff laws back then, imported vegetables were taxed, but imported fruit was not. It wasn’t long before a few angry tomato importers (Nix) got tired of paying taxes on what was, botanically, a fruit and took their case to court. The high court eventually ruled in favor of the tax collector (Hedden) and classified the tomato as a vegetable… at least for tax purposes.

It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? So is that why watermelons are considered vegetables?

No. Some of the distinction comes from the USDA, which decided that since watermelon is planted from seeds, harvested and then cleared from the field like other vegetables, then it should be classified as a vegetable. The USDA strengthened this position by pointing out that watermelon is grown as a vegetable crop using vegetable production systems, but I won’t get into those details here.

And so, the mystery over whether watermelon is a fruit or a vegetable is solved!

If you say so.

Actually, the USDA says so, and they’re a pretty smart group of people. The bottom line is this: The difference between fruits and vegetables often overlap and, in many cases, come down to cultural distinctions. And no matter what you call it, nothing changes the fact that watermelon is one of the best things Mother Nature ever produced.

At least we agree on something!

As any experienced gardener will tell you, it takes a whole lot more than sun and soil to successfully cultivate a homestead garden. Moisture, nutrition, as well as weed and pest control are required.

While many gardeners treat their garden with commercial insecticides to prevent insect pests, these noxious chemicals have the adverse affect of killing off beneficial insects and pollinators.

Healthy-looking cantaloupe growing in a home garden. amboo who / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Companion planting is a safe, effective, natural alternative that helps control insects pests without causing harm to the insects we wish to attract to the garden: all without the use of toxic chemicals.

Best Garden Plants To Grow With Melons

Melons are one of the most compatible plants in the garden and do well when planted with peas, pole beans, bush beans, onions, leeks, chives, and garlic.

Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, kale, okra, spinach, sunflowers, lettuce, and Brussels sprouts also flourish in the companionship of melons.

Avoid planting melons with potatoes.

  • Marigolds – Adding a splash of brilliant color, marigolds are “great neighbors” to most any vegetable crop, especially melons. Marigolds actually repel nematodes, aphids, beetles, flies, and other annoying garden pests.
  • Catnip And Tansy – Plant these pungent herbs directly in the garden or in pots located near the melon patch to effectively repel leafhoppers, aphids, flies, and squash beetles.
  • Nasturtiums – Both the flowers and leaves of nasturtium are edible and quite delicious. Add to salads and sand sandwiches for a spicy crunch or use the flowers as a plate garnish. Nasturtiums attract garden pests that damage other food crops. Aphids and other destructive pests love nasturtium plants so much; they will be focused on the nasturtiums and leave other plants alone. When planted near melons, nasturtiums also distract/repel whiteflies, leafhoppers, ants, and squash bugs.
  • Lettuce And Radishes – These fast growing, shallow rooted plants are ready to harvest before melon vines need room to spread. They also provide and attractive and weed suppressing ground cover when planted in the melon patch.

Melons Are Easy To Grow

There are dozens of varieties of melons. In the United States watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe, also known as muskmelon, are the most popular. Other popular summer melons found at fresh markets and local farmer’s markets include Ambrosia, Ananas, Canary, Casaba, Crane, Crenshaw, Galia, Persian, and Sharalyn.

Native to Africa and Asia, melons thrive in well-drained, fertile soil, and a full sun location with good air circulation. Planting melons along fences or walls block air flow, which may cause your melons to struggle.

Dmitry Bayer / Unsplash

Melons develop deep roots usually extend from 2-10 inches into the earth, but some go as deep as 4-6 feet. Therefore, the soil must be loose and moisture retentive.

Melons need at least one inch of water a week to keep the soil uniformly moist. During the hottest days of summer, more watering is required to ensure that the soil doesn’t get completely dry, which could stunt the growth and flavor development of your melons.

Melons require long, hot summer days to develop optimum flavor and texture. When these requirements are satisfied, melons flourish with little care.

Melons are easiest to grow in the homestead gardens in United Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 10. Dependent on variety, melons require 75-100 days to maturity.

Planting Tips For Melons

Enhance the garden plot with nutrient-rich garden compost or well-aged herbivore manure (sheep, cow, horse, goat, lama, poultry), working the organic material well into the soil while removing rocks and roots.

Do not plant melon seeds until the soil temperature has warmed to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. To encourage the soil to warm up in the spring, consider covering the garden with black plastic landscape film, which traps the warmth of the sun. Anchor the plastic covering in place to keep it from shifting and smothering new seedlings.

Using a hoe or rake, create 2-3 foot wide soil mounds spaced 18-24 inches apart. Melons seeds may be planted directly in soil, or in short season climates, started indoors and transplanted when the soil warms, and seedlings are 3-4 inches tall.

Plant 4-to-6 seeds or seedlings per mound. When seedlings are well-established, thin seedlings to 3 per mound.

Asian melons and honeydews can be trellis-grown to save garden space. Melons also do well when planted in containers or large pots on the terrace, deck, or patio—as long as they’re in the sun.

Deciding Which Melons To Grow

Low in calories, packed full of fiber and flavor, crisp and juicy, melons are consumed fresh in salads and deserts or may be dehydrated, pickled, candied, fermented, preserved, or frozen for year-round enjoyment.

Cantaloupe growing on the vine. Garrett Heath / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Because melons are so easy to grow, you will likely have more than enough to share with family and friends or sell as a cash crop at the local market. Melons are harvested in late summer and early fall.

When you find a variety of melon you especially enjoy, save the seeds.

  • Rinse to remove fruit membrane and dry on a paper towel for three weeks.
  • Select the plumpest, most solid seeds for replanting.
  • Store melon seeds in a cool, dry place.
  • When properly stored, melon seeds remain viable for three to five years.

Melons found at market are picked before they are thoroughly ripened. The mouth-watering sweet flavor and firm texture of a vine-ripened melon are what make growing your melons in the home garden more than worth the effort.

Removing Melon Fruit: How To Thin Out Watermelon Plants

For me, thinning out any young seedling is painful, but I know it has to be done. Thinning out fruit is also a common practice and is done to engender larger, healthier fruit by reducing competition for light, water and nutrients. If you want enormous watermelons, for example, then thinning the watermelon fruit is necessary, but the question is how to thin out watermelon plants? How many watermelons per plant should be left? Keep reading to find out all about pruning watermelons.

How Many Watermelons per Plant?

Healthy watermelon vines produce 2-4 fruits per plant. The vines produce both male and female flowers. Both are needed to set fruit and there are fewer female flowers compared to male, about one female for every seven males.

Watermelons can weigh as much as 200 pounds, but to get one that size, thinning watermelon fruit is a necessity. The vine simply does not have enough nutrients to foster more than one fruit of that size. This is where pruning watermelons comes into the picture, but removing melon fruit may have some downsides as well.

About Removing Melon Fruit

There are a few considerations before going off willy-nilly pruning a watermelon vine. Pruning promotes healthier vines and increased fruit size but if cutting the vines back too early, you may reduce the number of female blossoms. With no female blooms to pollinate, there will be no fruit. Pruning will also reduce the size of the vines, which can grow to over 3 feet in length.

Also, cutting back the plants may cause the vine to send out additional runners, which will then delay fruit set, as the plant is now focusing on growing vines instead of developing melons.

As the vine begins to fruit, at first it may seem that you have a bumper crop awaiting you. Don’t thin or prune the vine just yet! Many of the young melons will shrivel and die off, leaving only the strongest melons to ripen. If that is your end goal, then there’s no longer any reason to prune the vine back.

How to Thin Out Watermelon Plants

Whether you want to rein in the size of the vine or you’re trying for a blue ribbon melon, thinning watermelons is an easy procedure. Using sharp gardening shears, first remove any diseased, dead, yellowing or otherwise infested leaves and shoots at the joint, where they connect to the main stem.

At this time, also remove any secondary vines, those that are not blooming or look sickly. Leave one or two fruits on the vine if you want the largest melons or up to 4 for healthy, average sized watermelon fruit.

Because watermelons are prone to diseases and parasites, don’t cut the vines when they are wet.

Watermelon

Watermelon is a tender, warm-season vegetable. Watermelons can be grown in all parts of the country, but the warmer temperatures and longer growing season of southern areas especially favor this vegetable. Gardeners in northern areas should choose early varieties and use transplants. Mulching with black plastic film also promotes earliness by warming the soil beneath the plastic. Floating row covers moderate temperatures around the young plants, providing some frost protection in unseasonable cold spells.

Seedless watermelons are self-sterile hybrids that develop normal-looking fruits but no fully developed seeds. The seeds for growing them are produced by crossing a normal diploid watermelon with one that has been changed genetically into the tetraploid state. The seeds from this cross produce plants that, when pollinated by normal plants, produce seedless melons.

In seedless watermelons (genetic triploids), rudimentary seed structures form but remain small, soft, white, tasteless and undeveloped tiny seedcoats that are eaten virtually undetected along with the flesh of the melon. Seed production for these seedless types is an extremely labor intensive process that makes the seeds relatively expensive. Because germination of these types is often less vigorous than normal types, it is recommended that they be started in peat pots or other transplantable containers, where the germinating conditions can be closely controlled Once transplanted, cultivation is similar to that for regular watermelons.

For pollination necessary to set fruit, normal seed types must be interplanted with seedless melons. The pollinator should be distinct from the seedless cultivar in color, shape or type so that the seedless and seeded melons in the patch can be separated at harvest. Because seedless types do not put energy into seed production, the flesh is often sweeter than normal types and the vines are noticeably more vigorous as the season progresses.

Recommended Varieties

Early (70 to 75 days to harvest)

Golden Crown (red flesh, green skin; skin turns yellow when ripe)

Sugar Baby (red flesh, 6 to 10 pounds)

Yellow Baby (hybrid-yellow flesh, 6 to 10 pounds)

Yellow Doll (hybrid-yellow flesh, 6 to 10 pounds)

Main Season (80 to 85 days)

Charleston Gray (red, 20 to 25 pounds)

Crimson Sweet (red, 20 to 25 pounds)

Madera (hybrid-red, 14 to 22 pounds)

Parker (hybrid-red, 22 to 25 pounds)

Sangria (hybrid-red, 22 to 26 pounds)

Sunny’s Pride (hybrid-red, 20 to 22 pounds)

Sweet Favorite (hybrid-red, 20 pounds).

Seedless (all are triploid hybrids, 80 to 85 days)

Cotton Candy (red, 15 to 20 pounds)

Crimson Trio (red, 14 to 16 pounds)

Honey Heart (yellow flesh, 8 to 10 pounds)

Jack of Hearts (red, 14 to 18 pounds)

Nova (red, 15 to 17 pounds)

Queen of Hearts (red, 12 to 16 pounds)

Tiffany (red, 14 to 22 pounds).

When to Plant

Plant after the soil is warm and when all danger of frost is past. Watermelons grow best on a sandy loam soil, although yields on clay soils can be increased significantly by mulching raised planting rows with black plastic film.

Spacing & Depth

Watermelon vines require considerable space. Plant seed one inch deep in hills spaced 6 feet apart. Allow 7 to 10 feet between rows. After the seedlings are established, thin to the best three plants per hill. Plant single transplants 2 to 3 feet apart or double transplants 4 to 5 feet apart in the rows.

Start the seeds inside 3 weeks before they are to be set out in the garden. Plant 2 or 3 seeds in peat pellets, peat pots or cell packs and thin to the best one or two plants. For expensive seedless types, plant one seed to a pot or cell and discard those that do not germinate. Do not start too early – large watermelon seedlings transplant poorly. Growing transplants inside requires a warm temperature, ideally between 80 and 85°F. Place black plastic film over the row before planting. Use a starter fertilizer when transplanting. If you grow seedless melons, you must plant a standard seeded variety alongside. The seedless melon varieties do not have the fertile pollen necessary to pollinate and set the fruit.

Care

Watermelons should be kept free from weeds by shallow hoeing and cultivation. The plants have moderately deep roots and watering is seldom necessary unless the weather turns dry for a prolonged period. In cooler areas, experienced gardeners may find floating row covers, drip irrigation and black plastic mulch advantageous in producing a good crop in a short season.

Harvesting

Many home gardeners experience difficulty in determining when watermelons are ripe. Use a combination of the following indicators: (1) light green, curly tendrils on the stem near the point of attachment of the melon usually turn brown and dry; (2) the surface color of the fruit turns dull; (3) the skin becomes resistant to penetration by the thumbnail and is rough to the touch; and (4) the bottom of the melon (where it lies on the soil) turns from light green to a yellowish color. These indicators for choosing a ripe watermelon are much more reliable than “thumping” the melon with a knuckle. Many watermelons do not emit the proverbial “dull thud”when ripe. For these, the dull thud may indicate an over-ripe, mushy melon.

Common Problems

Cucumber beetles attack watermelon plants. Apply a suggested insecticide for control. If row covers are used in the early season for temperature moderation, early-season insect pests may also be excluded if the covers are applied so that the pests cannot penetrate to the crop below. These covers may be left in place until the plants start to bloom, at which time pollinating insects must be allowed to reach the flowers.

For more information on cucumber beetles, see our feature in the Bug Review.

Questions & Answers

Q. My watermelons are not very sweet or flavorful. Is the low sugar content caused by the watermelons crossing with other vine crops in the garden?

A. No. Although watermelon varieties cross with one another, cross-pollination is not apparent unless seeds are saved and planted the following year. Watermelons do not cross with muskmelons, squash, pumpkins or cucumbers. The poor quality of your melons may result from wilting vines, high rainfall, cool weather or a short growing season in extreme northern areas.

Q. What can I do to prevent my watermelons from developing poorly and rotting on the ends?

A. This condition is probably caused by an extended period of extremely dry weather when the melons were maturing. It may be aggravated by continued deep hoeing or close cultivation. Mulching the plants with black plastic film helps to reduce this problem.

Q. What causes deep holes in the tops of my watermelons?

A. The holes were probably made by pheasants or other wildlife searching for water during dry weather.

Selection & Storage

Watermelon is truly one of summertime’s sweetest treats. It is fun to eat, and good for you. Watermelon seeds were brought to this country by African slaves. Today there are more than 100 different varieties of watermelons. The flesh may be red, pink, orange or yellow. There are seedless varieties and super-sweet round ones that fit nicely into the refrigerator.

Producing a good watermelon is a bit tricky in the short northern season. The sweetest watermelons grow during long hot summers. Harvesting is particularly critical because watermelons do not continue to ripen after they have been removed from the vine. They should be picked at full maturity. No amount of thumping, taping, sniffing, or shaking can actually give a clue to ripeness.

Look for melons that are very heavy and have a hard rind. Ninety percent of watermelon is water. The rind color should be right for the variety with a waxy bloom. Probably the most important indicator of ripeness is the underside which sets on the ground. Turn the melon over. It should be yellow or creamy colored on the underside. If it is white or pale green the melon is not ready to harvest.

The flesh should be deep colored with mature seeds. Most watermelons have dark brown or black seeds. The seedless variety produces a few white seeds. Once picked, uncut watermelon can be stored for about 2 weeks at room temperature especially if the temperature is about 45 to 50°. Uncut watermelons have a shorter refrigerator life, so store at room temperature until ready to chill and eat. Tightly cover cut pieces in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Watermelons are low in calories and very nutritious. Watermelon is high in lycopene, second only to tomatoes. Recent research suggests that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, is effective in preventing some forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease. According to research conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, men who consumed a lycopene-rich diet were half as likely to suffer a heart attack as those who had little or no lycopene in their diets.

Watermelon is also high in Vitamin C and Vitamin A, in the form of disease fighting beta-carotene. Research also suggests that the red pigmented foods provide this protection. Lycopene and beta-carotene work in conjunction with other plant chemicals not found in vitamin/mineral supplements. Potassium is also available, which is believed to help control blood pressure and possibly prevent strokes.

Nutrition Facts (1 wedge, or 1/16 of a melon, about 1-2/3 cup)

Calories 91.52
Protein 1.77 grams
Carbohydrates 20.54 grams
Dietary Fiber 1.43 grams
Potassium 331.76 mg
Vitamin C 27.46 mg
Vitamin A 1046.76 IU

Preparation & Serving

The National Watermelon Promotion Board suggests washing whole watermelons with clean water before slicing to remove potential bacteria. The flavor of watermelon is best enjoyed raw. Heating diminishes the flavor and softens the texture. Watermelon tastes best icy cold in fruit smoothies, slushes or simply eaten from the rind.

To make melon balls, cut the watermelon in half lengthwise then into quarters. Watermelon balls can be scooped right out of rind. Create perfect balls, using a melon baller, and a twist of the wrist. The watermelon shell can be used to hold the melon balls as well as other fruit. Watermelon punch is also served from the hallow rind. By sitting the round end inside a ring or bowl, the shell will remain stable during serving.

To remove seeds, cut each quarter in half again. With the flesh of each wedge on top and the rind sitting on the counter, look for the row of seeds along the flesh of each wedge. Using a sharp knife, cut along the seed line and remove the flesh just above it. Scrape the seeds from the remaining piece.

Home Preservation

Seeded watermelon chunks can be frozen to use in watermelon slushes or fruit smoothies. Watermelon sorbet or granita stays fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months. The difference between a sorbet and a granita is in the texture. Sorbets are smooth, whereas granitas are coarse. You do not need an ice cream maker to make a granita. The best way to enjoy watermelon is while they are fresh and sweet. When they are gone, they are gone until next summer.

Recipes

Watermelon Granita

5 cups seeded watermelon pulp
1 cup sugar syrup
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Thin watermelon wedges, cut into strips for a garnish

  1. Puree watermelon in a food processor.
  2. Pour into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Stir in the syrup and lemon juice. Freeze for about 4 hours or until frozen solid.
  3. To serve, scrape up granita with a large spoon and place in goblets, tulip shaped wine glasses or ice cream dishes. Garnish with a narrow wedge of watermelon. Makes 4 servings.

*To make sugar syrup; Combine 1/2 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for one minute. Stirring constantly until all of the sugar has dissolved. Cool in the refrigerator.

Watermelon Smoothie

1 – 8 ounce lemon, fat-free yogurt
3 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned and hulled
1 tablespoon honey or strawberry jam
3 ice cubes

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine yogurt, watermelon, strawberries, honey and ice cubes.

  2. Process until smooth and frothy. Serve in tall glasses with a straw. Makes 4 servings.

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