The Genetic Diversity of Watermelons

Navaho Watermelon

Damn those supermarket watermelons! Every one I’ve bought this summer has been mealy, old and tasteless. Why? Yet again, the folks who sell us our food have decided to grow only a handful of the over 1,200 known varieties of watermelons.

The one pictured above is a Navaho watermelon I picked up at the National Heirloom Exposition. Note the vibrant (and tasty) red seeds. Navaho watermelons are sometimes called “winter melons” since they can be stored for a few months.

Another watermelon I tasted at the Exposition was a yellow fleshed variety called Orangeglo. It was probably the sweetest and tastiest watermelon I’ve ever eaten.

The problem with supermarket watermelons is not due to the seedless vs. seeded issue. Seedless watermelons are created with a complex genetic process you can read about here. What’s more relevant to taste is how early watermelons are picked, how long they’ve been sitting around and the limited varieties commercial growers plant.

The Heirloom Exposition eloquently demonstrated the benefits of genetic diversity with its watermelon display and tasting. And that diversity is something we can all address in our gardens, if we have one, by planting unusual seeds. You can bet I’m going to try growing watermelons in next summer’s straw bale garden.

What kinds of watermelons have you grown and what’s your favorite?

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  1. We tasted several watermelons at the Heirloom Expo. We saved some of the seeds but are sad to say we neglected to pinpoint the name of the variety. It was delicious and we will try to grow it next year, but were a bit deflated just now as we realized our error.

  2. I’ve been wanting to grow citron watermelon to make preserves. When I was an exchange student in France 12 years ago we ate homemade melon preserves, and I’ve been wanting more ever since.

  3. I grow Sugar Baby because it does well in our Texas heat and the melons are the right size for 2 and very tasty. BTW,dehydrated watermelon is excellent. Slice them thin and put in the dehydrator for about 10 hours.

  4. To this day I can still remember a terrific yellow watermelon my family picked up at a roadside stand in the Ozarks in the 70s. Still trying hoping to find the right seeds one day to grow one myself.

  5. I’ve grown sugar baby the last two years. The flavor and texture has been great, but I’ve tried to leave them on the vine as long as possible and both years I’ve had several of them split. the first year I was afraid to eat the split melons, but this year we did. I didn’t see any bugs on them and I think they just split the day we found them. They were delicious and not dried out or anything. They were all about 20 lbs! I don’t buy a lot of watermelon but that seemed heavy to me.

  6. I live just up by Seattle and have always thought that melons were out of my reach, but things are warming up around here and next year I’m going to grow that Orengeglo you talked about. Seems to do well in shorter growing seasons.

    I don’t even waste my time with grocery store melons. Even though I look longingly at them when I pass by. Just been burned way too many times on mealy tasteless melon. Grody.

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