How to Grow Watermelonscomments (16) June 29th, 2010
On a hot summer afternoon, we didn’t need much more than the shade of a mimosa tree and a watermelon to stay cool. My grandfather would split one open, spear the flesh with his fingers, and pull out a chunk. We ate it with our hands and weren’t afraid to make a mess. Watermelon and I were a love match made in heaven—literally it turns out. Little did I know then that I would grow up to marry a watermelon farmer whose family has grown the fruits for the past 90 years.
|Juicy, ripe watermelon is a summer treat.|
Though it would be easy enough to bring home watermelons from the field, we enjoy growing them in the garden beside the house. Breeding has reduced watermelons’ demand for luxury berths in the garden. As you will see, they can even be trellised. When you pick and eat a perfectly ripe watermelon from your own garden, you will understand the meaning of home-grown fun.
Finding time and space
No getting around it, the 25-lb. behemoths such as ‘Crimson Sweet’, a round, red-fleshed melon with dark green stripes, and ‘Royal Majesty’, also red-fleshed but oblong, require 6 ft. by 4 ft. garden plots for each plant.
On the other hand, icebox watermelons such as ‘Sugar Baby’, a round, red-fleshed fruit with a very dark green skin, and ‘Yellow Doll’, with its namesake flesh and light green skin, are perfectly suited for small gardens. They’ll do fine with 2 ft. by 4 ft. spaces per plant and turn out fruits of 5 lb. to 18 lb.
You can tighten the quarters a bit more with a bush type watermelon, such as ‘Garden Baby’. These compact vines require just a 2 ft. by 2 ft. spot and can even be grown in a large container on a patio.
Although a warm-climate crop, watermelons can be grown in northern areas if you have the right variety. Icebox types like ‘Sugar Baby’, ‘Yellow Doll’, ‘Tiger Baby’, and ‘Garden Baby’ mature in 75 to 85 days, which should be enough time for a bountiful harvest. The larger watermelons typically take 85 to 95 days to mature. On the Delmarva peninsula, we begin picking watermelons around July 4 and continue through early to mid-September, harvesting two or three fruits per plant. But it won’t pay to rush watermelon seed into the ground when it’s cool. The plants will just idle until warm weather arrives.
|The origins of the watermelon
Whence watermelons came remains a botanical conundrum. Southern Italy, the source of so much good eating, enjoyed for a time the status of chief suspect as the original home. The case could not be closed because the region harbored no wild watermelon plants.
In 1850, explorer David Livingstone called attention to Africa by reporting a great oasis of wild watermelons in the Kalahari Desert. Claims from other regions can be found as well, though most sources point to Africa first. Origins aside, these wet and weighty fruits have been borne across the continents and seas, with good reason. Mark Twain proffered a fine line for the fruit’s star-spangled popularity. “When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.”
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