The days of spitting watermelon seeds across the front lawn or carving the hollowed-out rind into Noah's Ark are long gone. So are those great big, triangular slices. According to the NY Times, farmers are increasingly breeding seedless, smaller melons with dense fruit.
The article discusses University of Arkansas plant pathology professor Terry Kirkpatrick and his work popping open watermelons as his lab works to find the most durable breeds to ship to urban shoppers. According to the Times, the shift is a tough one for Arkansas farmers and locals who are used to 50-pound fruits in the traditional oblong shape.
These days, round melons like the Super Sweet 710 abound while the traditional breeds like the Jubilee are harder and harder to find. The article details how 80 percent of watermelons sold in the United States are now seedless varieties and the oblong ones are being replaced with "round balls of sweet" that some folks think are "without character."
The Times calls new hybrids like the Pure Heart and the Bambino "cute melons," perfect for dicing into Tupperware and taking on an urban picnic. Farmers like the new trend as much as consumers do, according to the story, because an acre of mini melons can yield up to 80,000 pounds of fruit compared to 40,000 pounds of the larger melons.
The article references several farmers who predominantly grow the small melons (up to 12 pounds apiece), though some grow a few heirloom varieties as specialty products. The story goes into great detail discussing the nostalgic experience of enjoying summer watermelon for Arkansas residents. Sumer in Arkansas is synonymous with seed-spitting contests, slices of watermelon enjoyed on the sidelines of baseball games, and above all, giant watermelon displays.
According to the story, some of the larger watermelons, like the massive Carolina Cross, grow three to four pounds per day on the vine and can sell for up to $80. Farmers sometimes sell the seeds online to support their big melon habits, and one farmer told the Times the revenue from the seeds is "just enough to pay for the gas and fertilizer."
The article goes on to discuss farmer Stephanie Buckley, who says the giant melons waste resources, since it is "a chemical-heavy practice that involves culling plenty of healthy, unripe fruit to let the vine turn its attention to the most promising watermelon."
Kirkpatrick explains to the author that size and taste quality are not one in the same when it comes to melons, though. While Kirkpatrick shares a nostalgic attachment to the traditional melons, he told the Times that his test field melons "can develop a texture and balance of flavor that rivals even the best [traditional melon]."