Growings On: Georgia-grown watermelon is a refreshing summer treat

Roger Gates

Vacations and picnics that make the most of July 4 benefit from the holiday season coinciding with peak harvest season for a number of Georgia-grown fruits, including blueberries, cantaloupes, peaches and watermelon. Perhaps no dessert characterizes the Fourth of July meals more than a cold slice of watermelon.

According to the Georgia Watermelon Association (GWA), this year promises excellent production. Following a couple years of less than favorable weather pattern, this season has been encouraging, although planted acreage has decreased somewhat.

“The weather for this year’s growing season has been good so far,” said GWA President Rob Greene. “It is getting hot quickly, and that is watermelon weather.” Greene is owner of Lime Creek Farms in Arabi.

Planting for the Georgia watermelon crop begins in March. Many varieties used in the state need about 90 days to reach maturity. With more than 18,000 acres of watermelon harvested on average each year, Georgia ranks in the top four in the Unites States for production along with Texas, Florida and California. Most recent figures indicate that watermelon sales supported an industry total of just short of $135 million. The top 10 counties all had watermelon revenues approaching $5 million and Crisp County, the state’s top producer, harvested watermelons worth $19.4 million.

The GWA reports that Georgia watermelon entered stores on June 10. Consumers can pick up watermelon in local stores and markets throughout the Southeast. The GWA is collaborating with the Atlanta Braves for special promotions. Runners completing the annual Braves Country 5K on June 1 enjoyed a slice of refreshing watermelon at the finish line. Baseball fans attending Braves games on July 4-5 will receive a handheld watermelon fan to keep them cool. Consumers may join in the Georgia watermelon sweepstakes by submitting photos featuring ways to enjoy watermelon and win a prize each week. Details are available on the GWA Facebook page.

University of Georgia Extension provides these guidelines for watermelon consumers:

Whole watermelon will stay fresh for about two weeks if it is stored at a temperature below 60 degrees. At room temperature, it will keep for seven to 10 days. For optimum taste, place the melon in the refrigerator to cool prior to eating. Watermelon is a great, low-calorie, sweet treat with lots of nutritional value that can be enjoyed throughout the summer.

Independence Day is indeed worthy of celebrating. As you enjoy feasting, family and fellowship, pause to recall the power of the ideals of liberty and the remarkable genius of the Founding Fathers who expressed those ideals and courageously pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to make those ideals the reality we enjoy.

• Remember the Composting Workshop on Saturday at 9 a.m. at Lakeshore Community Garden. Amy Hartline, recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority, will discuss and demonstrate proper composting procedures using small “kitchen counter scale” containers up to large, garden size approaches.

Roger Gates is the agricultural and natural resources agent for University of Georgia Extension, Whitfield County. Contact him at roger.gates@uga.edu.

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