It is a sizzling summer day; the mercury is rising. You are hot, tired and hungry and looking for a healthy snack to eat. You want to keep active but unsure how. How does a refreshing slice of watermelon sound to you? A crisp, juicy slice of watermelon is undoubtedly what you are looking for. Watermelons are truly one of summertime's sweetest treats. It is fun to eat, and good for your health too. An all-American favorite, watermelon is highly nutritious and packed full of essential ingredients. Although available throughout the year with all its benefits, producing a good watermelon is a bit tricky in many parts of the nation.
Today there are more than 100 different varieties of watermelons. The sweetest ones usually grow during long hot summers. Harvesting is particularly critical because watermelons do not continue to ripen after they have been removed from the vine. Watermelons prefer a sunny location and fertile, well-drained soils. Incorporate plenty of organic matter and a complete fertilizer into the area before planting. Plant 4-6 seeds, 1-2 inches deep, in mounds 4 feet apart when soils are warm. Transplant watermelon 2 feet apart through black plastic for early maturity. Do not forget to use row covers to protect the plants when planting before the frost-free period. After the vines develop runners, side dress with additional nitrogen fertilizer. Irrigation should be deep and infrequent. Harvest watermelons when the tendril is dry, the ground spot is yellow, and the skin is dull colored.
Watermelons can be grown from seed or transplants. Watermelon fruits take 35-45 days to mature from flowering. To determine the maturity of the fruit, look for the curly tendril opposite the fruit which should be brown and withered; the ground spot under the fruit changes from white to yellow; and the skin color changes from shiny to dull. The rind color should be right for the variety with a waxy bloom. Probably the most important indicator of ripeness is the underside, which sets on the ground. Pick watermelons as they ripen. Watermelon will store for 1-2 weeks if held at 45-50ºF. Uncut watermelons have a shorter refrigerator life, so store at room temperature until ready to chill and eat. Tightly cover cut pieces in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
Watermelons are generally warm-season crops that achieve prime quality when grown under warm, sunny conditions. Cool, cloudy weather may result in watermelons with inferior quality. Soils with a history of watermelon diseases should be avoided or fumigated to avoid problems. Litter from previous crops should be disked and deep turned with a plow two to four weeks prior to planting to ensure its decomposition. Diseases are important in determining the success or failure of watermelon production. Certain diseases have destroyed entire watermelon crops in some areas even when the weather conditions favored their development. If disease control practices are not followed, some loss can be expected every year from foliage and stem diseases. There even lies the risk of attack by a variety of insect pests. Certain insect management practices can be used to ensure cost-effective control decisions.
Watermelons require great attention and care to develop into the best variety. The methods adapted for their cultivation depends on the growth and amount of production. Demand for watermelons is particularly high in the US, where 136,400 acres of watermelons had been harvested in 2005! In fact, demand for watermelons has constantly been on the rise. People are acknowledging its health benefits and are keen to intake all the goodness that it provides.
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