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how popular were water melons in the 1880's?

seems to me like there would be more carrots and spinach and beans and stuff, but what do i know i wasnt around back then!

Watermelons and chickens were the two most important things to have in the post-Reconstruction South. Those two single-handedly raised millions out of poverty. Up in the mountains, the sandy shoals, and the scrub land those two things will flourish when no other crop will.

Our farm was up in the mountains. Corn had to be planted three feet apart in the old days, that's the same distance as watermelon has to be placed apart. The latter is greater yield for value.

Butterbeans are the only bean that really thrives here ( and soy, but that came much later), and collards, mustard greens and even poke salat were more popular than spinach down here, despite Popeye's best efforts.
 

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Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium. An easy source of sugar when you can't afford to buy sugar. Long shelf life. A source of water during droughts (which is why they are placed in graves in Africa - to send water to the afterlife, and why the Egyptians cultivated them). The roots are shallow and they need less water than other crops.
They are ridiculously valuable in parts of the world, and they were ridiculously valuable in the South until fairly recently.
 
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