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(BPT) - For many people, seedless watermelons are a symbol of summer. Crisp and refreshing, this beloved red and green striped fruit represents a true slice of Americana.
So it may be a surprise to learn this summertime classic hasn’t been around very long. Until the 1960s, seedless watermelons were nothing more than a pipe dream. O.J. Eigsti, Ph.D., discovered a way to modify the genetic structure of a watermelon plant, allowing the fruit to grow without seeds.
Since Eigsti’s discovery, these seedless watermelons have become a staple at barbecues, lake-house getaways and family gatherings. But many consumers don’t realize how much time and effort go into growing just a single seedless watermelon.
An unlikely beginning
Rather than planting seeds on the farm, farmers purchase seedless watermelon transplants — or young plants — from agriculture companies, like Syngenta, the world’s leading supplier of quality seedless watermelon transplants.
Once these transplants are ready to be relocated, farmers like Jack Wallace, a third generation seedless watermelon grower in Edinburg, Texas, take over caring for them through the later stages of development.
“Planting transplants is very convenient because it helps make sure we have an adequate stand,” Wallace says. “And, generally, the better the stand, the better the yield.”
After a successful transplant onto his farm, Wallace turns to bees. They are essential for pollination, the last step before melons form in the field. It is estimated that 16 to 24 bees visit every seedless watermelon plant. The bees reap the benefits of a fresh flower, and the seedless watermelons are able to achieve full-yield potential.
After pollination, the work continues for Wallace as he cares for his seedless watermelon crop. From the very beginning, he must record and account for every input and activity. This helps him be more efficient in determining what works and what doesn’t, and it allows consumers to see that their food is grown sustainably. With a complex crop like watermelons, keeping track of every move can be overwhelming. To simplify his record keeping, Wallace is enrolled in the Syngenta AgriEdge Excelsior program and uses Land.db software, which helps track the inputs and outputs of his farm.
“I record all of my field activities,” Wallace says. “The program helps me keep track of how much I’m investing in the crop and each plant.”
Wallace doesn’t just invest money, he invests a substantial amount of time. In the months leading to harvest, Wallace continues caring for his plants and laying the groundwork for a successful yield. Some tasks, like applying mulch or pruning leaves, can take up to a full day’s work. Others, like regulating soil temperature and preventing rot, are a season-long commitment.
From farm to table
At harvest, Wallace’s challenge is picking each seedless watermelon at just the right time. Gathering too soon will result in a less-than-quality product, but waiting too long can be just as bad, resulting in over-ripened fruit. To achieve the perfect taste of summertime, Wallace diligently waits until the peak of ripeness to harvest.
Once the seedless watermelons reach their peak, they head to supermarkets and farmers markets, where consumers can select the perfect fruit. Wallace said the truest way to find the best watermelon is to simply listen to it.
“A lot of people thump or tap the melon,” Wallace says. “If it sounds like a bass drum, that may indicate the watermelon is past maturity. But if it sounds more like a snare drum, that’s a good sound. That one will be your melon.”
Watermelon and Lime Pops
3 cups seedless watermelon
1/3 cup lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
2 limes (optional)
Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor. Blend until liquid. Pour mixture into molds. Freeze overnight.
Optional: If you don’t have molds, pour mixture into paper cups. Place slices of lime at the top of cups to hold sticks in place.