In the long, hot days of July and August, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as a cool piece of watermelon. It’s a summer treat enjoyed by old and young alike. Watermelons are an early fruit whose civilization is thought to date back to nearly prehistoric times from the Mediterranean and northern Africa. Today, the watermelon remains a favourite crop among home gardeners. While watermelons aren’t a particularly tough fruit to grow, there are a few basics that every gardener should know so as to create their best possible watermelon harvest.
Watermelons are a fruit that take a long growing season, restricting its civilization to areas that receive at least 80 to 100 consecutive days of very warm summer temperatures, at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Specifically, watermelons also prefer warm night temperatures. Anything below 60 degrees Fahrenheit is undesirable and 70 degrees or greater is preferred. For gardeners who reside in regions with shorter summers, smaller icebox size melons will grow best, since they grow relatively fast, usually in 75 times compared to 90 to 100 days of warmth needed for larger melons.
Generally, watermelons shouldn’t be planted outside until approximately two weeks after the last expected frost date. This will allow plenty of time for the dirt to be thoroughly heated before planting. To get a head start in your melon crop, try starting your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse. You don’t need to begin watermelon seeds too early; typically they need to be started inside on or about a week prior to the date of the last expected frost in your area. When it is time to move the transplants outside, make sure you plant them with sufficient spacing. Typically, watermelon plants should be spaced no closer than 1 plant every 3 feet, though you will need more room for varieties that produce larger melons.
If you decide to begin your watermelon seeds in the garden, planting in hills is advised. Plant two or three seeds at a mound of soil, and after the plants are a few inches tall, thin them to one plant per hill.
Getting watermelon plants began is usually pretty simple, and once they take hold, the plant will increase rapidly. The toughest part of growing watermelons is knowing when to harvest them. Judging a ripe watermelon is something which has befuddled gardeners for centuries. There are lots of claimed tips for gauging a fruit ripeness. Some say you need to tap or knock the fruit and listen to the noise generated. This is a less than ideal method, since the melon will produce a ringing sound when it is still too green, and the sound will immediately change over to a dull thud when it is overripe. Other anglers look for the little tail on the melon to turn brown and dry up. This may also be unreliable, because in some melon varieties, the stem dries up as much as a week until the fruit is fully ripened.
Generally speaking, the outward appearance of this melon is the best guide. Melons generally become less shiny and darker in colour when fully ripened. Also check the bottom of the fruit. The place that the watermelon rests will be golden yellow in colour once the fruit is ripe. If all else fails, plant a number like Sugar Baby, a melon whose green stripes darken to close black when mature, an unmistakable indication that it is time to select the fruit.
When it comes to successful culture of watermelons in the home, one thing is for certain: it is more of an art than a science. If your first effort at homegrown melons does not go well, do not get frustrated and give up. Try a new variety the next year and you might have more luck. Remember, experience is the best teacher, and particularly so when it comes to growing your best watermelons.