As Florida is a stronghold of produce growth for the United States, I shouldn't be so surprised that watermelon is yet another item grown here.
However, I didn't know that Florida is one of the top three states in the United States for watermelon production, according to Stephanie Barlow, director of social media and public relations for the Orlando-based National Watermelon Promotion Board (yes, there's an organization for everything in this world).
"Florida is usually in the top three along with Georgia and Texas," Barlow said.
Watermelon growth has fascinated me ever since I moved to Florida because of the "watermelon buses" that often transport the fruit in Central Florida. In case you haven't seen them, they are old school buses that are cut open at the top in a few areas. The buses remind me of the year I lived and taught English in Central America.
In those Latin American countries, you'll find many old U.S. school buses living a second life as local passenger buses. The buses there are sometimes called "chicken buses," as you'll occasionally find passengers transporting chickens. It's fun to see more old school buses with a second life right here in the United States.
Although the so-called watermelonbuses are commonly used by growers and packers within the state, watermelon transport to other states is commonly made with refrigerated 18-wheelers, Barlow said.
Watermelon season actually started about two weeks earlier in Central Florida this year due to warmer weather, according to the trade journal The Packer.
Exact figures for 2012 Florida watermelon sales are not yet available as the fruit is still in season.
But the Florida Department of Agriculture's Dan Sleep predicts a similar number of sales compared with last year, based on the number of trucks that have shipped watermelons so far.
I recently discovered a few other facts from the National Watermelon Promotion Board about this summer staple fruit. I imagine you'll also find these interesting.
1. Watermelon is 92 percent water.
2. The fruit is technically a fruit and a vegetable. It's loosely considered a relative of the melon family, but it also has ties to pumpkins, cucumbers and squash.
3. Even the rind of the watermelon can be eaten.
In places like Russia, pickled watermelon rind is a popular dish.
In China, watermelon is stir-fried, stewed and also pickled (now there are some snack ideas for your next cookout).
4. Florida actually has two watermelon growing seasons — April through July and again later in the year.
5. The United States and Mexico grow up to 300 different varieties of watermelon. Who knew that so many varieties were available?
I even read recently about a square watermelon being produced.
6. Watermelons, including their rinds, should be washed before consumption.
7. Seedless watermelons have been around for about 50 years.
Most watermelons eaten in the United States are seedless.
8. The United States ranks fourth in the world for watermelon growth.
Forty-four states grow watermelon. The United States trails behind China, Turkey and Iran for watermelon production.
9. Despite their size, watermelons are actually a delicate fruit. For this reason, each watermelon is harvested by hand.
Harvesters can tell that the fruit is ripe by viewing the surface of the melon that's in contact with the ground.
When that surface is a yellow color, it's ripe enough.
10. Watermelon has high levels of vitamins A, C, B6 and potassium.
It also has a high level of lycopene, which is an antioxidant.