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Watermelons on the Vine
We take our watermelons seriously in the south, and North Carolina is no exception.
While watermelon season kicks off in the middle of June, farmers start months earlier. Greenhouses are seeded in late winter, with seeds planted in styrofoam trays and watered from overhead.
Small plants are transplanted to the fields in April and set into rows covered with black plastic. Drip tape running underneath carries water to the plants throughout the season. Starting in mid-June, workers will begin harvesting melons and continue into the fall.
Our farmers rank seventh in the U.S. in watermelon production, but we might be first in watermelon celebrations.
There are at least five watermelon festivals across the state, including the North Carolina Watermelon Festival, which celebrates its 34th year in 2019. The four-day event includes a parade, seed-spitting contest, and crowning of its own Watermelon Princess.
We are home to the reigning National Watermelon Queen, Katie Honeycutt. Crowned at the National Watermelon Association Conference, Honeycutt will serve as an ambassador for the industry at various events, including legislative visits. The newest North Carolina Watermelon Queen will travel the state this year, representing the watermelon industry at events such as grocery store grand openings to watermelon festivals.
The North Carolina State Farmers Market hosts a contest for the largest watermelon during its annual Watermelon Day. While watermelons were being weighed in, people were enjoying fresh-cut slices of melon. Crowds gathered around as each truck backed up, and every melon was carefully unloaded using special padding so as not to damage the melons.
Many of the grower names were familiar as they return year after year seeking to claim the title. This year’s winning melon weighed in at 223.5 pounds, just half a pound more than second place. The record for this event is held by a watermelon that weighed 237.5 pounds.
I grew up eating watermelon sliced and sprinkled with salt. If we bought the seeded varieties, there might be a seed-splitting contest afterwards. Now, the possibilities are endless. Watermelon is used as an ingredient in salads, desserts, cocktails, and entrees. What’s your favorite way to eat this summertime fruit?