Now is the time of year for Georgians to take part in a sweet, Southern tradition. Newly harvested watermelons are available at roadside stands, farmers markets and grocery stores across Georgia. It’s hard to imagine picnics, cookouts and pool parties without the cool, sweet taste of fresh watermelon. Georgia’s melon crop is sweet but smaller this year, and prices may be slightly higher.
"We’re going to have plenty of watermelons available for the Fourth of July this year," said Terry Kelley, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. "But we do know the crops were a little bit short this year."
Unlike most years when South Georgia’s weather goes straight from winter to summer, there was a spring this year and some cooler-than-usual temperatures at night. This harmed the early watermelon crop, he said.
"Wind did a lot of damage to the plants early on, which caused the early fruit on the plant to not be as prolific as they would be in a normal year," Kelley said.
Even with the difference in yield and the hot, dry weather, consumers can expect the size and sweetness of watermelons to be normal. Although the crop is smaller, the price shouldn’t be drastically different from previous years.
"Price may be a touch higher, but should be in the same ballpark as watermelons have been for the past three to five years," he said. "There won’t be a huge increase at the retail level, but growers may be getting a better price."
Farmers need the higher prices, he said. Production costs for watermelon and other crops have jumped tremendously in recent years. Georgia is entering the heavy harvest season, Kelley said, and the supply likely will increase as we approach and go beyond the holiday. Melons grown in the Northeast Georgia area are still three to four weeks from harvest.
Although Georgia has long been known for watermelon varieties such as jubilee, long gray and crimson sweet, newer varieties have gained popularity. Georgia watermelons that are now popular with consumers are hybrid varieties such as regency, Mardi Gras and royal sweet and smaller varieties such as imagination and Amarillo.
Here’s what you should look for when purchasing a watermelon:
When buying whole watermelons, look for a firm, slightly dull rind and fully rounded sides. For cut watermelons, look for firm, juicy, red flesh with no white streaks.
Watermelon seeds vary in color from white to black, depending on the variety, and should be fully mature and hard.
The lower side of the watermelon should be yellow where the melon came in contact with the soil. If a melon is hard, white or very pale-green on the under side, it is probably immature.
Thanks to Allie Byrd, UGA CAES Communications.
Billy Skaggs is Hall County extension agent. He can be reached at 770-531-6988. His column appears biweekly and at gainesvilletimes.com.