Watermelons are grown throughout Virginia, but primarily in the southern and eastern parts of the state.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, the state’s farmers grew 773 acres of watermelon on 338 farms.
When selecting a watermelon at a farm stand or in a grocery store, the national watermelon promotion board suggests:
- Looking for one that is firm and free from cuts and bruises
- A ripe watermelon should be heavy
- Look for a creamy yellow patch – also called the ground spot – where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.
The drier the days at harvest time, the sweeter the watermelon.
Streaked with dark and light green stripes and featuring a sweet pinkish-red flesh, Bates Broaddus’ 40-plus-pound Jubilee watermelon fetched first place at the 2021 State Fair of Virginia open crops and vegetables competition. It was a good year for his watermelons, grown in a half-acre home garden in Caroline County.
“We always raised them on sandier soil,” Broaddus said. “You’d think a watermelon would want irrigation and plenty of rain, but drier years seem to have better watermelons.”
Broaddus said his grandfather, father and uncle raised watermelon as a commercial crop years ago, but eventually scaled back, now growing just enough to share with neighbors and friends.
Broaddus will enter another watermelon in the Virginia State Fair competition this fall.
But his melons aren’t ready yet.
“We still have about a month and a half until the fair,” he calculated. “We just pulled one to see how it tasted. It wasn’t very sweet yet.”
It’s been a rainy year, noted Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist.
“That’s good and bad for watermelons,” he said. “If it’s too wet around harvest time, it can impact the sugar content a little bit. Growers, if using drip irrigation, will reduce watering at that time to help concentrate the sugars in the watermelon itself.”
The 2022 State Fair will run Sept. 23-Oct. 2 at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County.
To learn more about horticulture competitions at the State Fair of Virginia, visit www.statefairva.org/p/getinvolved