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Sweet, summertime harmony: A queen’s perspective on watermelon & honey bees

August 3, 2011

Today is the crowning moment for honey bees across the nation: National Watermelon Day!

Watermelon industry members across America are singing the praises of this delectable treat that is the source of their livelihood.

Singing – or buzzing – right along with them, are the honey bee specialists here at DPI in Gainesville.

Watermelon and honey bees go hand-in-hand. Honey bees are responsible for the pollination of the yellow bloom that flowers on a watermelon vine, just before the young melon appears. Without honey bees, watermelon production would come to a screeching halt.

Watermelon production is an integral component to Florida’s economy. In fact, Florida is the No. 1 watermelon producer in the nation, harvesting nearly 25,000 acres of watermelons in 2010, bringing $112,545,000 into the State of Florida, according to the USDA.

Commissioner Adam Putnam tweeted just a few days ago that “Florida produces enough fresh watermelon during one season to provide a serving to every man, woman and child in the United States for seven days.”

That’s one sweet accomplishment.

And just imagine – none of this would be possible without those busy, little honey bees and their amazing pollination skills.

The male part of a plant is called the stamen, while the female part is called the stigma. For pollination to occur, the pollen from the stamen must be transferred to the stigma. For each yellow flower blossoming on the vine, a honey bee must make about 30 visits back-and-forth between the stamen and the stigma. Whew – that’s no easy task, and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

These little critters carry the seed of life.

How many seeds are in a seeded watermelon? While this number will vary, on average, each watermelon has about 300 seeds. Each of these seeds has pollen grain associated with it. Therefore, each of these seeds has the opportunity of developing into another watermelon. But this reproduction would not occur without pollination, and pollination would not occur without the honey bee.

But what about those seedless watermelons that everyone’s raving about? Well, they have to be pollinated too! To grow a seedless watermelon, farmers plant seeded melons intermittently throughout their field. The honey bees transfer male pollen from the seeded melons to the female flower of the seedless melons. This is known as cross-pollination and produces a hybrid – the seedless melon.

If pollination doesn’t happen, a watermelon will never form. If pollination occurs but is incomplete, the watermelon will form in an unusual shape. Most of these melons won’t even make it into your grocery store or farmer’s market to be sold.

I have a special interest in both of these elite groups, as I am an employee at DPI and a past watermelon queen.

Although I normally wouldn’t introduce myself, this subject is near and dear to my heart. My name is Jessica Southard and I was the 2009 Florida Watermelon Queen, as well as the 2010 National Watermelon Queen.

Watermelon queens, like queen bees, are the face of their organization. The queens represent the industry at media events, produce shows and other promotional activities.

Being involved in the watermelon industry since the age of 12, I guess you could say I have a little experience in the field. Being an employee at DPI is allowing me to gain much more experience about the critters that help or harm our agricultural resources.

DPI’s website has numerous resources on the apiary industry, including honey bee pests and diseases, products of the hive and information about Florida beekeepers. Take a look at this presentation about a species that is threatening honey bees in Florida and be sure to visit www.freshfromflorida.com.

So the next time you’re enjoying that low-in-calories, high-in-deliciousness treat, think of the honey bee and how hard he worked to make it for you.

Can’t you just hear that sweet, summertime harmony in nature?

Happy National Watermelon Day!

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