Several varieties of watermelons were showcased at the recent SC Watermelon Field Day at Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville, South Carolina. Researchers test for sweetness (measure in “brix”), yield and disease resistance.

Last week we talked about crape-myrtles, including the old-timey Watermelon Red variety as well as the modern disease-resistant varieties with Native American names. Today, we will learn more about one of my favorite summer fruits, the watermelon.

Recently, I attended the S.C. Watermelon Field Day and learned all about watermelon growth, flowering and pollination. For example, melons have separate male and female flowers (as do cucumbers, squash and gourds). The pollen is spread from male flowers to female flowers by pollinators, such as bumblebees. In the research plots at Clemson University’s Edisto Research and Education Center, zinnias and other flowers are planted to attract bees to help pollinate the watermelon crop. I also learned about the benefits of consuming these luscious fruits.

Reasons to eat South Carolina-grown watermelons include:

1) They are delicious.

2) They are nutritious.

3) Your purchase supports farmers throughout the Palmetto state.

And delicious, they are. Besides chilling and slicing the mouth-watering fruit, you can use watermelons in many recipes. One of my favorites is “Fire & Ice Salsa,” made with chopped peppers, onion, garlic, salt and lime juice, plus watermelon in place of the tomato. Sounds terrible only until you have actually tried this delectable treat! This and more watermelon recipes are available at National Watermelon Promotion Board’s website at https://www.watermelon.org/Recipes/Category/Salsas-and-Sauces.

I have only recently learned of the nutritional benefits of watermelon. The tasty fruit rivals sports drinks in its ability to replenish the athlete (or home gardener) after a tough workout. And watermelons have more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Lycopene is an antioxidant that gives watermelon its red color. For more information on “Mother Nature’s natural hydrator,” go to http://agriculture.sc.gov/resources/agriculture-organizations/south-carolina-watermelon and click on Health and Nutrition.

Another benefit of consuming watermelon is supporting South Carolina farmers, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so. For example, in Florence County we have local produce available at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market (open Monday – Saturday, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. at 2513 W. Lucas St., Florence), the City Center Farmers Market (on Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at 369 W. Cheves St., Florence) and the Lake City Farmers Market (open noon–6 p.m. on Thursdays inside the Bean Market at 111 Henry St.). For information on other opportunities to purchase fresh produce, see the S.C. Department of Agriculture’s “Where to Buy Local” website at http://agriculture.sc.gov/where-to-buy-local.

The list includes community-based farmers markets, as well as local produce stands and roadside markets featuring certified S.C.-grown produce, all searchable by county.

For more information on watermelon production (so you can plan ahead for next year), please see our fact sheet at the Clemson Extension Home and Garden Information Center at https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/watermelons/.

Trish DeHond is the home horticulture agent and Master Gardener coordinator for Clemson Extension in Darlington and Florence counties. She can be reached by email at pdehond@clemson.edu

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