CHARLESTON — Watermelons are a South Carolina summer staple and growers learned about research being done at the Clemson University Coastal Research and Education Center (REC) that will help them grow prize-winning patches.

Professor Richard Hassell talks with Clemson Coastal REC field day attendees about work he is doing with researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop new watermelon rootstocks that are resistant to root-knot nematodes and fusarium wilt.

Professor Richard Hassell talks with Clemson Coastal REC field day attendees about work he is doing with researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop new watermelon rootstocks that are resistant to root-knot nematodes and fusarium wilt.
Image Credit: Denise Attaway / Clemson University

About 120 people attended a field day June 24 at the Coastal REC, where they heard about research professor Richard Hassell is doing with researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop new watermelon rootstocks that are resistant to root-knot nematodes and fusarium wilt.

“Fusarium (wilt) is the main disease affecting watermelons,” said Hassell, professor of horticulture and state Extension vegetable specialist. “We’re looking at grafting watermelons with other plants to make the watermelons more resistant to this disease.”

Summer-specific squash and gourds are two plants researchers are grafting with watermelon. Both the squash and gourd rootstocks are resistant to fusarium. The next piece of the puzzle is finding out which ones have better resistance to root knot nematode. Hassell also is researching ways to make watermelon grafting simpler in addition to finding ways to hasten the maturity of watermelon plants.

“This will help make watermelons available earlier in the season,” he said. “This would extend the season and give growers more time to sell their melons.”

Participants also learned that grafting does not change the taste of watermelons. Participants also learned about patches of wildflowers that are being grown near watermelon plants to determine if the flowers can attract native bees, wasps and other pollinators to complement honeybees and enhance fruit production.

Field day participants learned about research involving the use of high tunnels to extend the growing season and boost production of specialty crops. Zachary Snipes, a Coastal REC researcher, is using high tunnels constructed from metal pipe and covering to grow vegetables.

Other studies involving watermelons and high tunnels at the Coastal REC include cultivar studies and pollinizer studies. Attendees also learned about a study of heat-tolerant broccoli, different types of mulch and how bees can help with fruit and vegetable production, as well as a rain garden researchers are growing to study green solutions to storm water pollution.

The field day was held in response to an “overwhelming” number of requests from people to attend a June 1 field day. The first field day was targeted at commercial growers. The second field day was coordinated by Snipes and Amy Dabbs of the Clemson Cooperative Extension Office in Charleston.

“Having two field days allowed us to have information for a smaller, more targeted grower meeting on June 1 and a hybrid tour showing the farm, Urban Research and Demonstration Area (URDA) area, bees and Education Shed for the general public on June 24th,” Snipes said. “It worked out very well and we’re planning to do this each year from now on. By having two field days, we can provide information for two audiences: commercial growers and then Master Gardeners and the general public.”

Tim Nielson of Mount Pleasant said he enjoyed having the second field day. Nielson grows a vegetable garden in the small front yard he has at his townhouse. He said he has used the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service website and has been amazed at the valuable information, particularly the fact sheets, that are available.

“I have been waiting for this (field day) for a few years,” Nielson said. “Every time I’ve driven by (the Coastal REC), I’ve wanted to stop to see what they had. Now I know. This is some interesting research that will really help me.”

For more information on activities offered and research conducted at the Clemson University Coastal Research and Education Center, go to http://www.clemson.edu/public/rec/coastal/.

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