by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
What goes great with long summer days in sunny Central Florida? Cool, refreshing watermelon, of course! The popular fruit is the perfect choice for hot weather snacking because it’s 90 percent water, meaning it’s a sweet treat that keeps you hydrated.
Watermelon in Florida
Florida is the main source for watermelon in the U.S. with two major growing seasons. Peak production occurs March through July and again October through December.
UF/IFAS reports that in 2019 watermelon production earned Florida growers $161.54 million dollars. Of 26,300 acres that were planted in Florida with watermelons in 2020, 25,200 acres were harvested, with an average yield of 38,080 pounds. The low-calorie melon accounts for roughly 30 percent of our agricultural economy. The 1.02 billion pounds of watermelons grown here in 2021 made up about 30 percent of the nation’s total production.
Farmers in Florida love to grow watermelon because it’s ready to harvest just three months after planting, and it thrives in well-drained, sandy soils. Watermelon requires consistently warm temperatures for growth, which they get plenty of in Florida and other southern states. Once you add in melons from Georgia, California, and Texas with Florida’s output, you have 75 percent of the 3.4 billion pounds of watermelon produced nationwide in 2021.
As of last year, Florida was home to approximately 430 watermelon farms. While the fruit is grown throughout the state, the highest levels of production occur in the north and north central regions, in such counties as Levy, Gilchrist, Marion, and Alachua.
The counties in North Florida were able to plant their seedlings a little earlier than normal this year, thanks to warmer temperatures there in February. Those crops are expected to be ready for harvest starting around Memorial Day. Farther south, watermelon growers are expecting to cash in for the July Fourth holiday. The staggered harvest times help prevent an overabundance of melons on the market at any one time.
Watermelon is, as the name suggests, mostly water, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also packed with nutrients. The interior of the melon derives its pink color from its lycopene content. This phytonutrient is an important antioxidant that helps the body resist a host of problematic health conditions, such as inflammation, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.
In addition to lycopene, watermelon is also high in vitamin C and contains notable amounts of vitamin A, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, fiber, and iron. Watermelon is a low-calorie food that has no fat, sodium, or cholesterol, so you can feel good about indulging in this wonderful fruit all summer long.
Watermelon is a great value for the money, so go ahead and grab the biggest one you can carry the next time you’re at the grocery store!
If you’re not sure that you can eat all that succulent goodness in just a few days, then cut it into cubes or use a melon baller to scoop out little globes that you can pop in the freezer for future use. Frozen watermelon chunks are a fun addition to summer beverages and mocktails, perfect for cookouts and family gatherings throughout the season.
Watermelon chunks make a surprisingly tasty addition to grilled kabobs, and a watermelon-based salsa is a cool twist to have on fish tacos or roasted salmon. Of course, you can always play it safe and toss some bite-sized pieces of watermelon into a refreshing fruit salad, too.