Watermelon Evaluation 2015

Evaluating America's Favorite Melon

Watermelons fresh from the field

Watermelons fresh from the field

Last week Phil and Steffen, the SSE evaluation team, were busy harvesting watermelons.

This year Preservation grew 17 varieties of watermelon, a typical number, as it is a big crop that takes up a lot of space in the field.

Most of the watermelons were from our preservation seed collection (some of which are available through the SSE Yearbook) :

  • Cobb Gem
  • Kleckley Sweet
  • New Hampshire Midget
  • Wilson Sweet
  • Early Yates
  • Pride of Iowa
  • Voth's Russian
  • Grandpa Goff
  • Wondermelon

Others, like the Chelsea melon, are available online and at the Lillian Goldman Visitorโ€™s Center just north of Decorah, IA.

The Life Cycle of a Watermelon

Watermelon is evaluated at four life cycle stages. It begins when they are seedlings in the greenhouse. At that point the only observation made is varietal uniformity. The seedlings are taken out to the field, planted, and allowed to grow until they reach market maturity.

Steffen measuring fruit

Steffen measuring fruit

The second stage of evaluation is market maturity in the field. At this point the varieties are observed for productivity and degree of vine growth. The fruits are harvested and taken inside, which is when the heavy-duty evaluation begins.

The third stage of measurement is harvested market maturity. Once brought in the lab, each variety is evaluated for 15 characteristics, including length, width, and weight of fruit (the heaviest this year was 36 pounds!).

The shape of the watermelon is noted (round, oblong, elongated), as is the rind color, and any ridging that may be present. The watermelons are then cut open and the thickness of the rind, the flesh color, and the sugar content (in degrees Brix using a refractometer) are measured. The last step in the lab is to scan and photograph the fruit so that we have a record of its internal and external appearance.

After all the physical characteristics are measured comes what we at SSE consider the fun part: taste testing.

The Taste Test

Taste evaluation

Taste evaluation

This year Phil and Steffen had us try 10 varieties of melon. Each participant tastes each variety and ranks them on a scale of 1 to 5 for such qualities as sweetness, tang-iness, graininess, stringiness, appearance, and overall like-ability.

All of these measurements are entered in a database here at SSE. This meticulous record keeping helps us develop descriptions for the SSE Yearbook, compare possible duplicate varieties, and confirm historical information.


Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.