Something about summer makes you crave a slice or two of juicy watermelon on a hot day. And, our summer picnics and barbeques wouldn’t be complete without fresh watermelon … you can grow your own watermelons to eat and enjoy. In fact, it’s quite easy to do. However, there are a few important growing tips you should follow.
Watermelon plants need warm temperatures to grow and require a longer growing season than many other fruits and veggies, about 70 to 90 days depending on the variety. You can still grow them in cooler climates but you’ll want to start your seeds indoors ahead of time.
For warmer climates, you can direct sow your seeds outdoors when the soil temperature is 70 degrees or higher. For cooler climates, start your seeds about a month before transplanting; then relocate the plants to the garden when all risk of frost has passed.
Watermelons are heavy feeders, so you’ll want to amend your soil with some nice organic compost if possible. (The richer the soil, the tastier your watermelons will be.) Watermelons also grow best in a soil pH of around 6 to 6.8. Make sure your soil drains well, also. Watermelons prefer it that way.
Most people grow watermelons in raised rows, or hills. Space your plants about 2 feet apart and your rows about 5 feet apart, to allow plenty of room for vines to sprawl and stretch out. If you are gardening in a small space, you may want to try planting a single watermelon plant in a 5 gallon bucket; then allow your vines to climb over the edge of the bucket and tumble out into the yard or surrounding space. Just be sure to keep the plants well hydrated, as this method tends to dry out much quicker than the hilled method. And, make sure your bucket has holes in the bottom for drainage.
Mulch around your watermelon plants to keep the soil warm and to also keep water in. Mulch will also deter weeds and pests. While your plants are growing, blooming, and setting fruits, they will need plenty of water – around 2 inches per week, so be sure to provide adequate resources if Mother Nature doesn’t come through. Water your melon plants at their base to avoid wet foliage, which can encourage disease.
Getting The Best Fruits Possible
Your vines will produce both male and female flowers. Typically male flowers grow first, then the females. The female flowers will have a swollen bulb at the base, and this is what later bears fruit for the plant. Do not be alarmed if the male flowers fall off. Watermelon blossoms require pollination to set fruits, so you’ll want to attract bees into your melon patch for this important task. Try planting a few bright flowers near the watermelon vines to bring bees in.
As the plant grows, you may want to cut off secondary vines (side-shooting vines) and just keep the main vine growing. This will allow the plant to focus its resources and energy on producing fewer, but larger and tastier fruits. You can also pluck off some female blossoms and small baby melons for this same reason.
As your fruit begins to grow and ripen, you may want to gently lift them up and slide a piece of cardboard underneath to keep the fruit from rotting on the soil surface. You can also use straw for this purpose.
How to Pick A Ripe Melon
Picking a melon at its peak is part science, part art, and perhaps a little luck is also involved.
Here are a few ways to tell if a melon is ripe and ready for picking:
- The melon will sound hollow when you thump it.
- The bottom of the melon will be a creamy yellow to yellow-white color.
- Tendrils of the melon will be actively dying or dead. If the tendril is green, wait!
Cut the melon away from the vine, at the stem, with a sharp knife, near the fruit. Enjoy as soon as possible for best taste, but you can leave the melon uncut for up to 10 days. You can also put them in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days.
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