There is quite a bit of effort to growing watermelons. I
would say that it takes almost as much effort to grow 1 watermelon as it would
10. This being the case, grow several melons so at least the reward is worth
Watermelons are the perfect dessert for that summer picnic or simply that perfect midnight snack from the fridge that won’t add an additional 30 minutes on the treadmill. That’s right, not only is watermelon loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and beta-carotene, they have no cholesterol and practically no fat.
Soil temperature is critically important when growing watermelons. Being that they need 2 or 3 months of warm temperatures to produce ripe fruit, you folks up north are going to have to work a bit harder for it. If there was ever a time that I was going to measure soil temperature, it would be when I was planting my watermelons. If you aren’t going to do that then typically a good rule of thumb is to wait 2 or 3 weeks after the last frost date in your area to put your plants in the ground.
For you folks up north, y'all can speed up the warming process by putting black plastic on the ground to expedite heating the soil. Watermelons are heavy feeders and once planted require plenty of Nitrogen. Fresh manure not only provides this nitrogen but is also naturally warms the soil. Add plenty of manure to the hole and incorporate a layer of existing soil above it. This will keep the roots warm while feeding it. Now that the plants are planted and we have removed the plastic, we need to put down a layer of wheat straw to keep weeds down as well as maintaining warm soil temperatures and holding in moisture. Like the rest of your garden, a soil pH of 6 to 6.8 is ideal for growing watermelons.
Once the plants start to bloom, it will be time to feed them
again. Switching to a more balanced fertilizer will give the plant the
Phosphorus it needs to produce those flowers that will become your watermelons
and give it the strong root system to give them a good size. Give each plant 3
to 5 feet to grow, as watermelon plants like to crawl. Like squash, watermelon
plants have male and female flowers. The males will develop first followed by
the females which will bear fruit and the males will fall off the vine. Pollination problems with cantaloupe, cucumber, pumpkin, squash and watermelon
is fairly common.
Watering is crucial as these plants like to stay well hydrated
but don’t like to stay soaking wet. Soaker hoses are certainly a better option
than overhead watering as this will prevent foliar diseases. Overhead watering
can also chase off the bees that are critical for cross pollination as well as
wash away pollen. 1 to 1.5 inches of water a week is recommended. Rain gauges are great to have, as they can tell you when supplemental water is needed when there is an absence of rain.
Once your melons start to grow, it is recommended that you set then on something other than the ground as the ground can rot them or make them more accessible to critters. It can be a fresh bed of straw or cardboard but putting them on something reflective like aluminum foil will expedite ripening.
Knowing your regions first frost date is helpful because if your plant is blooming 50 days out from that date, you might as well remove any flowers to divert nutrients to the fruit that will produce.
All of your melons will become ripe within a 2 week period. You will know that it is ripe once the belly (where it sits on the ground) of the melon goes from whitish to a creamy yellow color. A week before you pick it, reduce watering to a level to keep the vine from wilting, as this will help produce a sweeter melon by concentrating the sugars. The shelf life for a unrefrigerated watermelon is about 3 weeks as long as it is stored in a cool area.
Incorporating plenty of organic matter and compost into your garden is critical before planting your crops. Continuing to feed with slow release granular fertilizer works well for those people with limited time. This fertilizer will continue to feed for 3 months and it includes micronutrients that may have been depleted from gardens of years past. For those people with a little more time, water soluble fertilizers like Miracle Gro will feed your plants every 2 weeks and will help produce large yields. For those Organic gardeners, fish fertilizer works great as well.
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