Watermelons…A Summertime Tradition

wholewatermelonAg Biz News Column
Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent—Ag/NR
Smith County

 

Watermelons

Melons grown in Texas consist of honeydew, muskmelons, and watermelons.  Melons are vining crops that require a lot of space to grow and mature.  For this reason, melons are not well suited for small gardens, especially watermelons.   Melons are a traditional summer treat in Texas.

Did you know that Texas ranks 3rd in the United States in watermelon production?  Watermelons are one of the state’s largest annual horticultural crop with an estimated 42,000 acres planted in Texas in over 100 counties.  It is estimated that the economic impact of watermelon production to the State of Texas exceeds $160 million.

Watermelons are grown in the deep well drained, sandy soils of East Texas.  Melons prefer a neutral pH soil.  Watermelon varieties include Black Diamond, Charleston Gray, Crimson Sweet and Jubilee to name a few.  Melons are considered a warm-seasoned crop and are susceptible to injury from frost.  There are seeded and seedless varieties of watermelons.

Melons do best with small amounts of fertilizer in two or three applications.  Applications of fertilizers may be applied in a band application along the rows.  Watermelons require a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus.  Avoid getting the fertilizer too close to the plant to prevent burn of the vines.  Nitrogen is an important nutrient needed by melons as the vines start to run.

Melon plants have separate male and female flowers on each plant.  Bees and other pollinators help cross-pollinate the flowers.  In the case of poor pollination, the female flowers will fall off the vine or the fruit will be poorly shaped.  Some farmers increase the size of their melons by removing or pruning some of the melons off the vines.  Most melons require 80 to 100 days from planting to harvest.   Avoid harvesting melons too early because the sugar content does not increase after harvest.

Inspect your field of melons to scout for insect and disease issues that may occur.  Annually occurring insects of melons include whiteflies, aphids, mites, squash bugs, and thrips to name a few.  Rotating crops is important in disease control.  Early detection of insect and disease outbreaks can be helpful in reducing losses of production.

There is always a debate on when to determine when a watermelon is ripe.  Some listen for a dull sound when thumped, a color change in the rind, a change in the color of the soil spot, and others look for the drying of the tendril near the point where the melon is attached to the vine.  If left long enough, the stem will naturally separate from the fruit called “full slip.”  Fruit at this stage should be used within 36 to 28 hours.  Many harvest when the fruit is at the “half slip” stage.

Any way you slice it, melons are enjoyed by many at summer outdoor activities.  Many people have their preferences as to what they like in a good melon.  Melons may be served in a number of ways.  Most melons are served sliced and served fresh.  Some like melons fresh off the vine while others prefer them cold from the refrigerator.  Anyway you like them, melons are a summertime treat in Texas.

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