I presented my dad with a healthy watermelon transplant for Father s Day, looking forward to the day when the juicy pink fruit would be ripe. Growing melon is an easy task with a sweet payoff.
Mid-June is a good time to get watermelon seeds started. You can also find strong and stocky melon transplants. Watermelons are part of the cucumber, squash and pumpkin family and, just like their cousins, they need lots of room. Keep them in about eight to 10 hours of sun a day to qualify for full sun. Plant the watermelon seedlings in a mound of soil called a hill. Two or three seedlings can be planted in each hill, spaced about three feet apart. Give them plenty of room because each hill will spread out in about a 25-to-30-feet-square area.
Melons don t have to stay on the ground. You can let their vines grow on a sturdy trellis or fence. As the heavy fruit develops, put them in a loose cloth sling that will help hold their weight yet still let them expand. Some varieties, like seedless watermelon, grow up to 25 pounds and are too heavy to support, so you will have to let them trail on the ground.
Seedless varieties like Cotton Candy will expand to about 20 pounds. Honey Heart has yellow flesh inside instead of red and grows about half that size; it can be considered a single serving for melon lovers like me. Standard watermelon varieties like Crimson Sweet and Charleston Grey tip the scale at 25 pounds.
Bees pollinate melon blossoms. The plant won t produce fruit without our little pals. Beetles, on the other hand, aren t as helpful. They want to feed off the foliage and can damage the stems so much that the crop is ruined. You can keep beetles off foliage early in their development with a powder insecticide like Sevin, but once the blossoms start to sprout, stop spraying to protect the bees.
Melons have male and female blooms. Males are skinny and sprout first. They don t actually produce the fruit. Females flowers are bigger. The bees will pollinate the males, then females, and your fruit will start to grow off the female blooms. The male blooms shrivel and die.
Most of the plants in your garden need about an inch of water a week. You can figure out how much water they get by setting small containers like tuna cans within your sprinkler s range.
Check the clock, then turn on the water and let it spray until you have an inch in the can. You ll know how long you need to set the sprinkler to provide the proper amount of moisture each week. The same trick works for your lawn.
Melons and berries contain a lot of water. Keeping them moist will produce a sweet, juicy bounty.
Some people shake a melon to see if it is ripe enough to eat. Others believe if you thump it and it has a dull thud, it is ready. Actually, you need to be a tipper. Tip the melon over and check the bottom. If you have been growing them on the ground, the bottom will turn yellow. Look closely at the spot where the melon attaches to the stem. It will dry out when the melon is ripe. Look for dull, tough skin and you will find a sweet watermelon. Save the shaking and thumping techniques for the end of the season, when it s time to clean up the garden.