Robust Delaware watermelon season begins

Free slice giveaway July 31 on Rehoboth Boardwalk
Watermelon is for sale at a fruit stand along Savannah Road in Lewes. BY RON MACARTHUR
August 3, 2013

A strong Delaware watermelon season is now under way, with First State melons now reaching customers in grocery stores and markets along the East Coast, from New England to Florida.

Even in the wake of heavy early-summer rains, this season is featuring good yields and excellent quality for Delaware watermelon growers, said Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee. The First State produces both seeded and seedless watermelon.

“We’re excited the Delaware watermelon season is starting,” Kee said. “Delaware has been a major shipper of fresh, high quality melons for more than 100 years, and the tradition continues this year.  Our quality is excellent this year, buyers can rest assured that Delaware melons will handle well, and consumers can look forward to great flavor and sweetness.”

With production now at more than 100 million pounds annually, Delaware watermelon production has risen steadily over the last few years as demand has increased around the country. Delaware shipped $13.6 million worth of watermelon last year, grown on about 2,800 acres.

To help kick off the season, the Mar-Del Watermelon Association will hold a free watermelon giveaway this week on the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. Starting 11 a.m., Wednesday,July 31, five watermelon queens will hand out slices to beach visitors near the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand.

On hand will be National Watermelon Association Queen Amber Nolin and Mar-Del Watermelon Queen Chelsey Procino, as well as state queens Brandi Harrison of Florida, Catherine Woodtich of South Carolina and Carol Anne Mitchell of Georgia. There also will be an event from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Giant Foods on Route 1, Rehoboth, with judging for a watermelon-carving competition at 4 p.m. and a watermelon-eating competition at 4:30 p.m.

Kee and Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Buddy” Hance recently recorded a commercial with Procino to promote Mar-Del watermelon. Last season, Maryland and Delaware officials joined together with the Mar-Del Watermelon Association and promoted Mar-Delicious watermelon to buyers and consumers in the New England markets.

"Although watermelon farmers have had many challenges this year, we have worked hard to make sure it is still the outstanding crop that we are proud of in Delaware," said Laurel-area watermelon grower Mark Collins.

“Watermelons are only on the vine for a few months each year, and it takes time and hard work in advance, but the payoff is delicious. We’re proud that families up and down the East Coast can enjoy our watermelon.”

Delaware watermelons are ripened on the vine, which increases their sweetness. Watermelon stops ripening when it is harvested, so the fresher you can buy it, the better it tastes. The watermelon season is relatively short, from July to September, and August is a prime production month, so consumers should ask for them when they shop.

Grocers interested in connecting with Delaware watermelon producers can call the Department of Agriculture’s Marketing Section at 302-698-4500 for assistance.