By Clint Thompson
It should come as no surprise, but North Florida watermelons are progressing at a faster pace than in previous production seasons.
Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Regional Specialized Extension agent in Live Oak, Florida, attributes the progression to the early planting dates that most growers started with this year.
A lot of the crop in the region was planted in February. That came amid a time when temperatures were unseasonably warm.
“We moved a lot of the crop to earlier in the season than we normally would,” Hochmuth said. “I think some of the comments that some of us were talking about is that we’re seeing excellent fruit set up to this point in time. If we look at normally where we expect to be on April 9, we have a lot more fruit that would be set and moving along than what we would normally have this time of year.
“Everything got shifted earlier. We’re happy with the way the crop is setting. I think everything has moved a little bit earlier because of the earlier planting date when a lot of farmers got started planting in the middle to the end of February.”
Hochmuth estimated that a few thousand acres were planted in February. Consistent temperatures in the 80s made February fill like spring. That helped spur the progression of the plants.
“They took off like gangbusters. They got off to a very fast start because of those high temperatures. The high temperatures over a period of time, they were really warm in the bin, so the black plastic was doing its job, enhancing and warming the soil,” Hochmuth said. “They were in soil that was much warmer than you would normally expect in February as well.”