Thursday, July 20, 2017

Growing & Harvesting Watermelon

Everybody needs a watermelon patch! The old fashioned varieties are definitely worth the effort. With hybridization, watermelons have become seedless and nearly rind-less. But our great grandparents had the right idea about melons with thick rinds for protection, watermelon pickles and lots of seeds for spitting. Watermelon flesh comes in a rainbow of colors from white, yellow, orange, light pink, to bright red. The patterns on the rinds are just as numerous. A variety of shapes and sizes and maturity dates means there are no excuses for not including this delicious summer treat.

My goats love watermelon!

Watermelon are heat loving plants and generally need a long growing season. I am in zone 5 and they do wonderful here. Date to maturity ranges from 70- 105 days. They thrive in a soil rich in organic matter. I direct seed my melons on Mother's Day which is our Last Average Frost Date.

First and Last Frost Dates

Blacktail Mountain (H) good for Northern growers because of early maturity but also heat and drought tolerant.
You want to plant when your soil temperature is 65-80 degrees. Just stick a thermometer a couple of inches down in the dirt to determine soil temperature. Do this in the afternoon. Here's some suggestions to ensure you have happy melon vines whether you direct seed or start seeds indoors.

Direct Seeding:

We are going to amend the soil before we plant the seed. As the plant matures it has a fertile compost rich soil for the roots to grow into. Start by digging a hole about 1'x1'. Fill the hole with compost and a large handful of dry organic fertilizer mix. I included a link to the fertilizer mix I make.

Dry Organic Fertilizer Mix

Prepare to get both hands dirty. Mix the compost, fertilizer, and regular soil together and pat it down. Immediately plant your seeds. I plant two or three. You can thin out to the best two plants. Leave lots of space between plants. Don't over crowd your melon patch. This is one plant I do not put in raised beds. It will take over the bed you plant it in and intrude on nearby neighbors.

Depending on your zone you may want to warm up your soil with black mulch cloth or a row cover. You could also start the melons under a low tunnel and remove the low tunnel as weather warms.

Tom Watson (H) large 20-40 lbs and very productive

Starting Seeds Indoors:

I do not recommend starting watermelon indoors. They have very sensitive roots; however, in some zones it may be necessary. If you start seeds indoors do so 2-3 weeks before the last frost date of your area. Watermelon roots aren't particularly fond of being transplanted. Never buy root bound watermelon. Before transplanting follow the above method to amend your soil.
Watermelon are frost sensitive so be sure to pick a variety that has time to mature. Look up the length of your growing season (number of days from first frost to last frost) and choose a variety whose maturity date is within that range.

Tendersweet Orange very delicious and a favorite with sweet orange flesh

Saving Seeds

Watermelon belongs to the genus Citrullus and the species lanatus. All varieties of watermelon will cross with each other. Muskmelons are a different genus and species so they don't cross with watermelons. You will have to hand pollinate if you plan on saving seeds. Watermelon seeds will remain viable for six years if stored properly. The seeds are ripe when the melon is ripe for eating.

Charleston Grey (H) good for those with warm long growing seasons

Jubilee (H) old time favorite with red flesh

How to tell if a watermelon is ripe?

I think the best indicator is to locate the tendril opposite the stem of the watermelon. When it changes from green to brown it is ripe. Look at the bottom of the melon. There is a light white patch. When it ripens, it turns a pale yellow. Knock on the melon and it should sound someone knocking on the door. Hopefully you have picked a ripe melon because once picked they do not continue to ripen.

Moon and Stars Yellow has incredibly sweet pale yellow fresh

Water the Watermelon:

As the name implies, watermelons need even moisture. How much you water will depend on the type of soil you have. When you poke your finger into the soil, it should feel cool and moist. Mulching around the plants helps keep the soil from drying out.

Moon and Stars red fleshed heirloom

My favorite way to enjoy watermelon is the slice it, cube it, chill it, and eat it fresh. Nothing is more refreshing after working hard in the garden or farm than sitting on the porch eating cold watermelon. We sit outside so my husband and spit his seeds out. Here are a few other refreshing ideas.

Watermelon, Strawberry Lemonade

8 cups cubed seedless watermelon
1 cup strawberries, halved or raspberries
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar or agave (I start with 1/4 to 1/2 cups of sugar; 1/4 would give a tarter drink)
2 cups water
Combine all the ingredients in a blender or mixer and blend until smooth.

Optional add a few mint leaves

This is also delicious frozen and eaten as a slush or add vanilla yogurt for a smoothie

Watermelon wagon

My ducks finishing off the rest of the melon.  Everybody enjoys watermelon!

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