Published on 06/23/97

Cool Spring Brings Sweet Year for Watermelons

The long, cool spring might not have been everybody's favorite weather. But Georgia watermelons loved it.

"Georgia grows some of the best watermelons in the world," said Wayne McLaurin, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "They're especially good after cool weather. So they should be really sweet this year."

The watermelon trucks are loaded and rolling out of the state's major commercial production areas such as Cordele in Crisp County. Watermelons fill 38,000 acres in Georgia. The crop was valued at $54 million in 1995.

"Some people like to grow watermelons at home," McLaurin said. "But it's such a problem because the vines are so big. They just take over the garden. So buy them from the roadside stands or your grocery store. It's easier, and the quality can't be beat."

Georgia melons are picked ripe, not early.

"They don't undergo eight days of shipping, when they can lose flavor in transit," McLaurin said. "So make sure you're getting Georgia melons."

Florida is the top watermelon producer, followed by Texas. Alabama, Georgia, California, Indiana and South Carolina also produce good quantities, according to The Packer, a produce availability guide.

"We're seeing a little smaller melon on the market now," McLaurin said. "A 25-pound melon is good for a party. But most people don't have a refrigerator that big.

"The red watermelon is still the most popular. But I like the yellow-meat melons," he said. "If you're blindfolded, you can't tell the difference."

Most people know to thump a watermelon for ripeness. But what are they listening for? McLaurin said you should listen for a dead sound, as compared to a "green" sound.

"Actually, I look at the stem," he said. "It shouldn't be dead. The ground side should have a yellow area, rather than white or very pale green. But I've never eaten a bad watermelon."

Watermelons can be green, gray or striped. They can have yellow or red meat, with or without seeds. McLaurin doesn't see any great difference among them, although the seedless melons cost more.

"They're a lot easier to eat," he said. "But it does take the fun out of eating them."

Watermelons are a good source of potassium and vitamins A and C. The average melon is about 92 percent water and 8 percent natural sugar. It's also low in sodium. And an average slice contains about 120 calories.

"Watermelon isn't exactly a health food," McLaurin said. "But it's good food. Besides eating it straight off the truck, you can make ice cream out of it, pickle it, make watermelon preserves and other treats."

Enjoy one of Georgia's best early-summer favorites, he said.