Vegetable Field Day delivers nutrition, sound farming practices

By Peter Hull

Field day participants enjoy watermelonShhhh! Don't tell the kids: Watermelons aren’t just sweet and juicy. They’re also good for you!  

A staple summer crop in South Carolina, watermelons are an important source of vitamins and minerals — essential ingredients for a healthy lifestyle, scientists told more than 200 people at the Watermelon and Vegetable Producers Field Day at Clemson's Edisto Research and Education Center.  

"I argue the value is in the complete fruit," Penny Perkins-Veazie, a post-harvest physiologist with the horticultural science department at N.C. State University, told the group.  

She rattled off a litany of watermelons' benefits, including potassium, a very important electrolyte salt; vitamin C, to help maintain a healthy immune system; and vitamin A, a major factor in preventing blindness, among other benefits.  

Perkins-Veazie’s research includes evaluating food safety, quality and consumer appeal characteristics -- such as flavor, color, antioxidants and texture -- to help provide growers with better quality fruits and vegetables for high-value markets.  

On the other side of the equation, farmers received the latest information on improved production techniques, viewing field trials and presentations on grafting in watermelon, sensor irrigation, fertilizers, squash bugs and spider mites -- in between sampling more than 90 melon varieties.  

Tony Keinath, a vegetable pathologist at Clemson’s Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston, warned of four key diseases that can reduce crop yield: powdery mildew, gummy stem blight, downy mildew and anthracnose.  

Although it’s hardly an ideal situation, he said, when faced with a quadruple threat of four diseases simultaneously striking a watermelon crop, a grower may need to spray for all four.