Watermelon is a great summer time treat that is popular at all kinds of picnics from Memorial Day to July 4th and on to Labor Day. Watermelon is summer in America.
Watermelon is composed of, and this is no surprise, 90% water. The fruit is native to Africa and according to ancient hieroglypics, was cultivated in Egypt and India. There are over 500 varieties in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors.
Most familiar are the melons with green rind and reddish flesh polka dotted with black seeds. There ware white varieties as well as melons that come in yellow and orange. Some types have seeds and some are seedless. Some can weigh 1 pound and others can top the scales at over 250 pounds!
Watermelon is a warm weather crop and can’t handle even a light frost. Day temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees F with night temperatures about 70 degrees are the best. Watermelons need a good deal of moisture and about 8 hours of sun a day to grow and mature. Plant seeds or plants in small hills in your garden, about 2 to 3 to a hill. Each hill should be 5 feet apart to make room for the vines that will grow. Be sure to mulch with hay, grass clippings or even shredded newspaper (no colored pages) to retain water in the soil. Once vines start to grow add some water fertilizer that is added to water and is high in nitrogen. You want the vines to grow at the beginning. Once flowers start to form stop using nitrogen rich fertilizer.
It is interesting to know that the first blossoms on the watermelon vines will not set fruit. These are male or what is called pollen-bearing flowers. Only female or pitillate flowers can develop fruit. Bees are attracted most to the male flowers. They do their magic on them and take the pollen to the female flowers and abracadabra – we have fruit.
There are few insects and diseases that can get the best of your watermelon plants. Cucumber beetles and aphids will make snacks of the vines. A disease called Fusarium will also cause your vines to wilt and die. Leaf spot and gummy stem blight are other diseases that can harm your harvest. Be very careful when using insecticides to kill insects as they will also harm the bees that you need to help pollinate your crop. Releasing Lady Bugs near an aphid infested watermelon crop will help as lady bugs love to eat aphids. Insecticidal soaps will also help as will a strong stream of water from a hose. Cucumber beetles are a little more of a challenge and usually require insecticides. Check with your local nursery for more information. Diseases can be controlled with fungicides. Always remember that keeping your crop weeded and providing enough air circulation between the vines will keep your watermelons healthy. Insects and disease will rarely attack healthy plants.
Harvest watermelons when they are ripe. There are several indications as to whether the fruit is ripe or not. First, turn the watermelon over to see the spot on which it has been resting. This is called the “ground spot”. This spot will change color from pale green or white to a cream or yellow color. The vines near the fruit will start to turn brown and dry. Thump the watermelon with a finger. If a dull tone reaches your ear, it is ripe. If the sound is clear or ringing it isn’t ready yet.