Archive for March, 2013

Have you tried growing watermelons?

March 6, 2013

2013 is the Year to Grow Watermelons

Every year, National Garden Bureau, an American organization, names one edible, one annual and one perennial as the featured crops for that year. 2013 is the Year of the Watermelon.

Watermelons (Citrillus lanatus) are one of the largest edible fruits grown in the U.S. It’s also one of the most useful fruits as every part is edible: the flesh can be eaten as is, the rind can be pickled and the seed can be roasted or ground into other ingredients. Watermelons probably originated almost 5,000 years ago in the Kalahari Desert of Africa where botanists have found its wild ancestors still growing. Watermelon cultivation moved north through Egypt and during the Roman era they were cultivated and prized. Watermelons were documented in 1629 in Massachusetts. During the Civil War, the Confederate Army boiled watermelon to make molasses for cooking. It is in the Southern states such as the Carolinas and Georgia where watermelons flourished as commercial crops.

Watermelons can be classified in one of four ways: Picnic (larger melons ranging from 15-50 pounds) , Icebox (smaller melons ranging from 5-15 pounds), Seedless (usually mid-sized and can be round or oblong), Yellow/orange flesh types.

In the early 1990’s seedless or triploid melons came onto the market and it’s estimated that 50% of all watermelons grown commercially are now seedless. For the home gardener, seeds of a huge variety of heirloom and hybrids are readily available, allowing you to choose from rind colorations that range from light green to dark green and can be striped, solid or mottled. Flesh color ranges from almost white to bright red.

How To Grow Watermelons
Watermelons need a long hot growing season. Gardeners in northern or cooler climates, choose an earlier-to-mature variety like AAS Winners ‘Shiny Boy’, ‘Golden Crown’ or ‘Yellow Baby’ that all mature in 70-75 days.
Watermelons need warm ground for seeds to germinate and grow. Soil should be 70 degrees F or warmer at planting time. Sow seeds 1-inch deep and keep well watered until germination. To get a jump start in cooler climates, cover the planting area with black plastic to warm up the soil or start seeds indoors two or three weeks before they are to be set out in the garden. Don’t start seeds any earlier, because large watermelon seedlings transplant poorly. Plant 3 seeds ½ inch deep in 3- or 4-inch peat pots or large cell packs and thin to the best plant. Place in a sunny south-facing window or under lights to germinate. Make sure the area is warm both day and night, ideally 80 degrees F.

Watermelon vines of some varieties can reach 20 feet in length so plan accordingly. Amend soil with organic matter such as compost or composted cow manure. Add a balanced fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Sow 8 to 10 watermelon seeds in a hill, and push seeds 1-inch into the soil. Space hills 3 to 4 feet apart, with at least 8 feet between rows. Thin plants to the 3 best in each hill. Keep soil free of weeds by shallow hoeing or with a layer of mulch.

When to Harvest
Watermelons mature rapidly during hot weather. Most are ripe about 32 days after blooming.
The surest sign of ripeness in most watermelon varieties is the color of the bottom spot where the melon sits on the ground. As the watermelon matures, the spot turns from almost white to a rich yellow. Also, all watermelons lose the powdery or slick appearance on the top and take on a dull look when fully ripe.

This article is edited from the National Garden Bureau. W. Atlee Burpee for providing the majority of the content in this article.
Founded in 1920, the National Garden Bureau is a non-profit organization whose mission is to disseminate basic instructions for backyard gardeners that will inspire them to spend more time gardening.
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