Watermelon is truly one of summertime’s sweetest treats. Watermelons are 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.
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. Producing a good watermelon is a bit tricky in the short northern season. 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.
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, tapping, sniffing, or shaking can actually give a clue to ripeness.
One main kind of watermelon is a seedless watermelon. These melons 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 plant, when pollinated by normal plants, produce seedless melons.
In seedless watermelons, rudimentary seed structures form but remain small, soft, white, tasteless and undeveloped tiny seed coats 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. Here 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 interpolated 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.
Although most people don’t like watermelons, they are low in calories and very nutritious. Watermelons also are 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.
Watermelons are 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 or mineral supplements. Potassium is also available, which is believed to help control blood pressure and possibly prevent strokes.
Watermelons are one vegetable that should not be left out of your life. So next time you go out to the super market, buy a watermelon because it can not only give your body what it needs, but it can also prevent harmful damage to yourself.