watermelonBy Kurt Nolte

• Yuma County is the leading producer of watermelons in Arizona. In 2010, watermelon was grown here on 2,100 acres for a crop value of $10.5 million.

• Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is native to the Kalahari desert of Southern Africa. It likely crossed the Atlantic Ocean and made its way to North America with African slaves.

• Watermelon has a smooth exterior rind that is usually green with dark green stripes or yellow spots. The juicy, sweet interior flesh is usually deep red to pink, but sometimes orange, yellow or white

•  Fresh watermelon may be eaten in a variety of ways and is also often used to flavor summer drinks and smoothies. Every part of the watermelon is edible, even the seeds and rinds. In some cultures it is popular to bake the seeds as a snack. The first cookbook published in the United States in 1796 contained a recipe for watermelon rind pickles. Some cultures eat the rind as a vegetable, such as in stir-fried dishes.

• Watermelon is 92 percent water. Early explorers used them as canteens.

• Watermelon does not contain any fat or cholesterol and is an excellent source of vitamins A, B6 and C. It also contains fiber and potassium. Scientists have found that watermelon contains more of the health-promoting compound lycopene per serving than any other fresh fruit or vegetable. Lycopene gives watermelon and tomatoes their red color and is thought to act as a powerful antioxidant that may help to reduce the risk of age-related diseases.

• Select a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free of bruises, cuts and dents. Lift it up – a watermelon should be heavy for its size. On the underside, there should be a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground.

• About a half-century ago, all watermelons were round. They were hard to stack and tended to roll around during the rough ride from farm to market. Since they were also soft, they were prone to cracking and bruising as they bumped together. Fred Andrus, an agricultural researcher, developed the first sweet melon that could be stacked, because it was shaped like an oval and was named, “oblong.” Today most watermelons are oblong.

• Seedless watermelons are the product of two plant varieties: that of the seedless plant itself and a plant that is needed to pollinate it. This system for growing seedless watermelons was first developed by Dr. Kihara in Japan and subsequently improved by Dr. O J Eigsti in 1948.

Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at
knolte@cals.arizona.edu or 726-3904. For additional information please visit https://extension.arizona.edu/yuma.