The origin of watermelons has been traced back to the deserts of southern Africa, where they still grow wild today. The ancestor of the modern watermelon is a tough, drought-tolerant plant prized for its ability to store water for tribes crossing the Kalahari. The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred about 5,000 years ago in Egypt and is depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls of their ancient buildings. Watermelons were often placed in the burial tombs of kings to nourish them in the afterlife. From there, watermelons were brought to countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of merchant ships. By the 10th century, watermelon found its way to China, which is now the world's top producer of watermelons. The 13th century found watermelons spreading through the rest of Europe via the Moors.
You need three things to grow watermelon: sun, bees and water. Farmers generally grow watermelon in rows (8 to 12 feet apart) and in raised beds (4 to 12 inches high) composed of well drained sandy soils. Tiny watermelon plants from a nursery are transplanted into soil beds. Honeybees must pollinate every yellow watermelon blossom in order for it to produce fruit. In a month, a vine may spread 6 to 8 feet, and within 60 days, the vine produces its first watermelons. The crop is ready to harvest within 3 months. The rind of a watermelon is not as tough as it looks, so it is handpicked. Watermelon pickers look for a pale or buttery yellow spot on the bottom of the watermelon, indicating ripeness.
* Pics of field of watermelon (flowering stage and field with watermelons is possible)
For a long time, watermelon has been taken for granted as a sweet, tasty summertime fruit made of sugar, water and nothing more. Over the past years, nutritionists, medical professionals, scientists and researchers have taken an interest to find out more about watermelon's health benefits. As it turns out, watermelon is incredibly healthy! The Watermelon Board is proud to say that watermelon is the lycopene leader among fresh produce. In addition to its healthy properties and effects on women, children, men and pregnant women, watermelon is an important part of a healthy diet.
Nutritionists have long appreciated the health benefits watermelon provides. Watermelon not only boosts your "health esteem," but it has an excellent level of vitamin C and is a source of vitamin A and vitamin B6.
Vitamin A found in watermelon is important for optimal eye health and boosts immunity by enhancing the infection-fighting actions of white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Vitamin B6 found in watermelon helps the immune system produce antibodies. Antibodies are needed to fight many diseases. Vitamin B6 helps maintain normal nerve function and form red blood cells. The body uses it to help break down proteins. The more protein you eat, the more vitamin B6 you need.
Vitamin C in watermelon can help to bolster the immune system's defenses against infections and viruses and can protect the body from harmful free radicals that can accelerate aging and conditions such as cataracts.
A two-cup serving of watermelon is also a source of potassium, a mineral necessary for water balance and found inside of every cell. People with low potassium levels can experience muscle cramps.
More than 300 varieties of watermelon are cultivated in the United States and South America, where complementary growing seasons provide a year-round supply of watermelon in an array of shapes, colors and sizes. Because there are so many varieties, they are often grouped according to characteristics, like fruit shape, rind color or pattern and size.
The most common watermelon options are:
Seeded: The classic watermelon comes in a wide range of sizes. (15-45 lb., round, long, oblong)
Seedless: Due to high demand, the majority of watermelon cultivars grown today are seedless – and they are getting redder and crisper thanks to seed breeding advancements. They are not the result of genetic engineering, but rather hybridization – the crossing of two different types of watermelons. (10-25 lb., round to oblong)
Mini: Petite “personal watermelons” are easy to handle and their thinner rinds can mean more flesh per pound. Hollow them out for a compostable serving bowl. (1-7 lb., round)
Yellow & Orange: These varieties lack the lycopene that gives red-fleshed watermelon its color. Yellow and orange varieties add a surprising element to the plate or glass. (10-30 lb, round)
* Pics of some of the different typed of watermelon
By weight, watermelon is the most-consumed melon in the United States, followed by cantaloupe and honeydew
The first cookbook published in the United States in 1796, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, contains a recipe for watermelon rind pickles.
According to Guinness World Records, the world's heaviest watermelon was grown by Chris Kent of Sevierville, Tennessee in 2013, weighing in at 350.5 lbs.
TERMS TO KNOW
Hybridization - The crossing of two different types of watermelons
Rind - The firm white part of the fruit that is left behind after the bright pink flesh has been eaten or scooped away