Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Wonderful Watermelon (page 2 of 2)

by Susan Littlefield

Tips for Watermelon Success

Give Them Heat Watermelons revel in heat. Wait until the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past before planting seeds or setting out transplants. Then hope for warm weather! Optimal growing temperatures are between 75-80 degrees during the day and 65-70 degrees at night.

Gardeners in cooler climates can help melons along by preheating the soil with black, red, or infra-red transmitting (IRT) plastic before planting time; starting seeds early indoors in peat pots 3-4 weeks before the setting out date; and choosing early maturing varieties.

Give Them Room Watermelon vines need room to roam! Plant 4-6 seeds in hills spaced 6-12 feet apart, thinning to the two strongest vines, or plant in rows, spacing plants 5-7 feet apart in the row with 4-6 feet between rows.

Give Them Protection Watch out for cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, squash bugs, and spider mites. Covering newly seeded beds or transplants with row covers keeps out cucumber beetles when plants are small and most vulnerable, but need to be removed once vines come into bloom so bees can reach the blossoms. Prop developing fruits on a coffee can or a couple of bricks to reduce the likelihood of fruit rot and speed ripening.

Give Them Food and Water Keep your vines vigorous by planting in soil amended with compost and giving them a dose of a soluble fertilizer such as fish emulsion as the fruits begin to form. Make sure plants get a consistent supply of water throughout the growing season, but cut back on water some a couple of weeks before harvest to boost the sugar content and get the sweetest harvest.

Question of the Month: Picking a Ripe Watermelon

Q: What's the best way to tell if my watermelon is ready to pick?

A: That moment of perfect ripe sweetness is what watermelon growing is all about! Here's what to look for so you harvest your melon at its peak of perfection. Check the curly tendrils on the stem near where it attaches to the fruit. When the melon is ready they will have changed from light green to brown and dry. The spot where the melon rested on ground should be yellow, not white or light green, and the rind should dull and tough enough that it's hard to dent with a thumbnail. Ripe melons will also make a dull rather than ringing sound when thumped, but this is so subjective that it's not a very reliable test.

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