JoAnne Skelly: The amazing watermelon

The Fourth of July is over with all its traditional celebratory foods, including watermelon. It’s a good thing watermelon is a part of this summer holiday’s food mix because its health benefits may have helped counteract the impacts of the assortment of less-than-healthy foods we eat that day.

Watermelon has vitamins A, B6 and C as, well as the mineral potassium. It contains the antioxidant lycopene and also beneficial amino acids. Being 92 percent water, it can help prevent dehydration. Besides being cholesterol- and sodium-free, it’s also low in calories. The watermelon, Citrullus lanatus, grows wild in Southern Africa. It needs a long, warm growing season and requires more heat to ripen than many other melons.

Each plant has both male and female flowers, just as its close relatives: zucchini, cucumbers and pumpkins. Bees are critical for pollination and fruit set. It takes about three months for a watermelon to ripen. An interesting fact is seedless varieties need a seeded variety nearby to produce pollen in order to bear fruit. Watermelon flesh is usually red, but can be yellow, pink or orange.

The largest U.S. commercial production of watermelons is in California, Arizona, Georgia, Florida and Texas, although in all, 44 states grow watermelons.

In our area, we have to plant early-maturing varieties that produce fruit in 70 to 75 days, rather than a typical 90-day ripener. A ripe melon produces a hollow “thunk” when tapped. When it’s ready to be picked, its underside, where it sits on the ground, will be pale yellow rather than white, and the tendrils, where the melon attaches to the stem, will be withered and dark. Always cut the melon from the vine rather than pulling it off.

To pick a good melon in the store or from the farmer, choose a heavy one that’s firm without bruises, cuts or dents and that does have the creamy yellow spot on the bottom. I usually let a melon sit on the counter out of the sun for a couple of days after purchase. Then, I put it in the refrigerator for a day or so. This brings up the sugars that make the watermelon sweet, “what the angels eat,” according to Mark Twain.

Much of the information above was from Imagine that, an entire website devoted to the wonderful watermelon! I also referred to my old standby, “The Sunset Western Garden Book.”

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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