Watermelon harvest delayed but in time for July 4

The Texas watermelon crop was delayed by spring weather, but plenty should be available for the Fourth of July holiday, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said the state’s melon crops were showing good fruit sets and are progressing well after a challenging spring.

Stein said melon producers avoided major disease and pest issues this season. However, cloudy weather has pushed their grow date later than usual. Some areas in which melons are typically ripening in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend could miss that peak melon-sales period.

“They want to have them ready for market a week to 10 days before the holiday weekend,” he said. “The cloudy weather may delay the beginning of harvest for a lot of producers who usually aim for that window.”

Producers in the Rio Grande Valley have been harvesting early varieties for a few weeks and should have plenty of melons for July 4. Other melon-producing areas, including the Texas Wintergarden area, Central Texas and East Texas should follow.

Cloudy days may delay harvest, but recent sunshine should improve flavor, Stein said.

“The amount of rain really won’t affect the flavor,” he said. “It’s the sunshine that matters. Cloudy weather slows growth, but the leaves can’t manufacture the sugar for the melon, so taste could be a problem on some early varieties if they haven’t been getting the sun they need.”

Producers applied fungicides to avoid disease issues related to above-average soil moisture levels, but their management of wind could be an issue as the crops progress.

Stein said windbreaks are sometimes overlooked as a valuable part of melon production. Some producers plant winter wheat and leave rows of stubble for vines to cling to throughout the season as well as reduce the impact of winds.

Melon vines that are not provided windbreaks can become twisted together by winds, which can restrict vine growth and productivity, Stein said.

“It’s amazing what windbreaks can do to help vines to grow,” he said. “Providing protection from the wind is important from the start. You don’t really see how it affects the plants’ output, but we know it hinders development of the vines, especially for producers who use plastic and drip lines.”

Texas continues to rank No. 1 in the nation in watermelon production, Stein said.

Watermelons were an $87.5 million crop in 2018, according to an AgriLife Extension economic report. Other melons add more than $5 million to that crop value.

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