Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Watermelon and Other Melons

“When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat.” -Mark Twain

Background and Vocabulary

Melons are warm season crops that thrive in Oklahoma’s long growing season. All kinds of melons grow in Oklahoma, but our watermelon crop is the most profitable. In 2015 Oklahoma produced 540,000 hundredweight of watermelon, adding about $7 million to our state’s economy.

Most of the watermelon produced in Oklahoma goes out of state. According to a study by the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Oklahoma exports 392.8 percent more watermelon than is consumed in the state.

In ancient times, watermelons were prized as a source of transportable water. Ancient Egyptian tombs are decorated with pictures of watermelon drawn more than 5,000 years ago. Traders sold seeds along ancient Mediterranean trade routes, and cultivation spread throughout Africa. By the 10th century, watermelon found its way to China, which is now the world’s number one producer of watermelons.

Watermelon probably arrived in the US with colonists and African slaves. Some historians theorize watermelon may have American origins as well, since early French explorers found native farmers growing watermelon in the Mississippi Valley.

Thomas Jefferson grew watermelon at Monticello. He and his peers used every part of the watermelon. Besides eating the refreshing flesh of the watermelon, early Americans toasted the seeds for snacks, pickled the rind and drank the juice. The first cookbook printed in the US included a recipe for pickled watermelon rind. The United States now ranks fourth in worldwide production of watermelon.

Oklahomans began growing watermelon before statehood. At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Oklahoma exhibited three watermelons with a combined weight of 334 pounds. One, the largest of the exposition, weighed 117 pounds. In 2015 Oklahoma ranked 12th in the nation in the production of watermelon.

Acreage for watermelon has been the second largest for a vegetable crop, after southern pea, in Oklahoma for many years. Production is concentrated in the central and south-central areas, but watermelon can be grown in most areas of the state.

Although watermelons are sweet and usually eaten as dessert, they are classified in US Department of Agriculture statistics as a vegetable rather than fruit. They are members of the cucurbit family, along with squash, cucumbers and pumpkins. In 2006 the Oklahoma Legislature declared watermelon Oklahoma’s state vegetable.

Watermelon is 92 percent water, fat free, nutritionally low in calories and high in energy. A two-cup serving of watermelon contains excellent levels of vitamins A, B6 and C. It is also a source of potassium.

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), watermelon is one of the traditional dishes enjoyed at most July 4th festivities—along with hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, potato salad and potato chips.

How to Pick a Melon

Harvesting melons is labor-intensive. Conveyors and other harvesting aids can speed up the harvest process, but there are no mechanical harvesters that can decide which melons are ripe. That remains a human skill dependent upon experience and careful observation. To select your own ripe melons from the grocery or farmer’s market, use the following hints:
For most melons, the blossom end should be fragrant and give slightly to pressure.

  • Muskmelons or cantaloupes should be tan or gold under their netting.
  • Honeydews should be velvety and creamy yellow.
  • Crenshaw melons should be golden yellow and green.
  • Casabas are ready when the skin turns golden and the flesh white.
  • Honeydews, casabas and watermelons should feel heavy for their size and sound hollow when tapped on the rind.
  • Avoid melons with shriveled, punctured or cracked rinds.
  • Watermelons should have a waxy look and a yellow patch on the belly.
  • Thumping an unripe melon will produce a metallic sound while the sound emanating from a ripe melon will be duller.

Background and Vocabulary

Learning Activities

Lesson: Melon Madness

Students will read about melons and participate in activities using melons, including creative writing, visual art activities, and map reading activities. Grades 3-5: ELA, SS

Lesson: Melon Math

Students will estimate, measure and collect data using watermelons. Grades PreK-4

Lesson: Melon Meiosis

Students will read about the discovery of colchicine, which made seedless watermelon possible. Students will use modelling clay and beans to model meiosis and mitosis. Students will design imaginary watermelons and write marketing plans for them. Grades 6-12: Science, ELA

Lesson: Melons in Prose and Poetry

Students will compare and contrast a passage about watermelons written by Mark Twain and a poem about melons by Sylvia Plath. Grades 6-10, ELA

Students will read the following passage about watermelon by Mark Twain. Students will answer comprehension questions about the reading and write their own descriptive passages.

Lesson: Watermelon, Watermelon

Students will sort a variety of melons and sample them to determine favorites. Students will create graphs based on the results of the sampling.Students will create watermelon booklets, based on the book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” Grades PreK-2: ELA, Science, Music

Smart Board Activities (Scroll down to "Melon Madness")

Pauls Valley’s Watermelon Seed Spittin’ World Championship

Pauls Valley celebrates each 4th of July with a watermelon seed-spitting contest. Held in conjunction with the city’s 4th of July fireworks show, this contest has been a Pauls Valley tradition for over 50 years. Since 1957, when the contest began, the Watermelon Seed Spittin’ World Championship has been featured in the Guinness Book of Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Each year participants attempt to break the record of Jack Dietz of Chicago, who launched a seed 66 feet 11 inches in 1989. Go outdoors for your own seed spitting contest. Measure to see how far each student can spit seeds. How does students’ spitting distance compare with the world record?

Working Watermelon

The rind of a watermelon looks tough but is actually quite fragile. For that reason watermelons are still picked by hand and passed hand-to-hand from the field to trucks, which take the melons to packing sheds. There they are sorted and hand-packed into trucks, crated into bins or placed in cartons for shipment to their destinations. The average weight of a watermelon is 20 pounds. Medicine balls weigh between 8-10 pounds. Students will toss a medicine ball in a circle to simulate workers tossing watermelons during watermelon harvest.

Smartboard Activity: Drawing Conclusions

Survey

If you used these lessons, along with the "Fruits, Nuts, and Veggies, Oh My" booklet, please let us know by answering a few quick questions. Your class might be featured on the website as a result!

 

Additional Resources

More Melon Facts

Watermelon Recipes

Poems about Melons

Books

Appelt, Kathi, Watermelon Day, Henry Holt, 1996. (K-3)

There's a watermelon growing in the corner of the patch where the fence posts meet, and Jesse is waiting for it. Waiting for it to fill up with the cool summer rain and the hot summer sun. Waiting until at last it is ripe and ready for eating. Waiting until it is ready for her family's annual Watermelon day.

Galindo, Mary Sue, and Pauline Rodriguez Howard, Icy Watermelon/Sandia Fria, Arte Pinata, 2008. (Grades PreK-2)

In this bilingual picture book, three Latino children share riddles and stories with their parents and grandparents as they eat watermelon on Sunday afternoon. Abuelo remembers that when he was a boy, he helped his father harvest watermelons and sell them along the highway and in the barrios. In fact, that's how Abuelo met his wife. When her mother sent her to buy a watermelon, her dog jumped in the truck and went after Abuelo, and he dropped the fruit. His face was "redder that the watermelon lying all over the street," but he was in love. The text appears in both English and Spanish on each page.

Hutchens, Paul, The Watermelon Mystery (Sugar Creek Gang Series), Moody, 1998. (Grades 4-6)

First, a grocery store robbery. Then somebody steals Bill Collins's prize watermelon.

Koller, Jackie French, and John Manders, Peter Spit a Seed at Sue, Viking Juvenile, 2008. (Grades PreK-3)

Four bored children visit a man selling watermelon slices from his truck, dig into them, and soon begin slurping and spitting, leading the way for the rest of the town to follow suit. When the mayor appears and it seems the game is off, she surprises everyone and ups the ante—by throwing pies!

Lottridge, Celia, One Watermelon Seed, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012. (Grades PreK-2)

Numbers, colors, and gardening are combined in this vividly illustrated counting book. The story starts as Max and Josephine plant a garden, first 1 watermelon seed, then 2 pumpkin seeds, and so on all the way to 10. The phrase, "and they grew" follows mention of each new set of seeds. The illustrations depict the seedlings as they grow. After a center spread with colorful plants filling the pages to capacity and Max and Josephine busy at work, it's time for the harvest. The fruits and vegetables are so plentiful that they must be counted in tens: "ten watermelons, big and green, and twenty pumpkins, glowing orange." Later, on a cold winter night, the children turn "one hundred ears of corn" into "100s and 1000s of big, white crunchy puffs" of popcorn. Throughout the book, the text runs along the bottom of the double-paged illustrations, with the numerals, in bright colors, lining up beneath. This appealing book is great for classroom counting and discussions of seasons.

Moser, Lisa, and Stacey Schuett, Watermelon Wishes, Clarion, 2006.

When Charlie and his grandfather plant a watermelon patch together, Charlie hopes that one seed will become a special kind of watermelon that gives one wish. As they enjoy fishing, picnicking, playing basketball, and swimming, Grandpap tries to guess what his grandson would ask for. In the end, Charlie reveals that his wish is for another summer with his grandfather like the one they just had.

Tofts, Hannah, One Cool Watermelon, Zero to Ten, 2008. (Grades PreK-2)

Kids can count their way to healthy eating with this delicious introduction to math through familiar fruits and vegetables. A variety of discussion subjects are introduced, including identifying favorite foods, investigating taste differences such as sweet and hot, examining textures such as smooth and sticky, and comparing the differences in the size of the items as well as their colors. A playful and interactive layout allows the reader to open flaps and view the inside of each fruit or vegetable.

Ag in Art: Frida Kahlo, Viva la Vida, Watermelons

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Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, 4-H Youth Development, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.