Growing Watermelons is another great summer crop in Texas! Watermelons can be grown in large or small spaces, in long growing seasons or short. The ones that take a larger space are sprawling varieties, such as Sugar Baby or Yellow Doll. The melons with smaller space requirements are bush varieties, such as Garden Baby Hybrid or Bush Jubilee. These I’ve mentioned produce fruit in 65-70 days.
Examples of the long-season varieties are Cobb Gem, Rattlesnake or Charleston. These melons are larger, and take longer to mature, about 85-100 days.
Melons do well in Texas Zone 9, with its high humidity and extreme heat.
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Preparation and Planting:
Soak the seeds in water for a day before planting to increase the sprouting chances. Add aged manure, seaweed and/or compost before planting.
Plant melons about 2 weeks after the last frost date, when the ground has warmed up to at least 65 degrees, and preferably 85 degrees. Plant seeds 2-3 feet apart, 1/2 inch deep in fine soil, where the plants can receive full sun.
Mulch to keep the weeds down, and the soil moist. Use a slow-release fertilizer, as melons are heavy feeders. You can also spray the leaves with a water soluble fertilizer. Water frequently, about 1-2 inches of water per week, but hold back when the fruit begins to ripen. Water the base of the plant and try to avoid wetting the leaves so as to avoid leaf spot and downy mildew.
The vines can reach up to 20 feet in length. Last year, I had my watermelons corralled into a 4×8 bed surrounded by 12″ high decorative wire fencing, and kept turning the escaping vines back inside the bed. You can also grow melons vertically on a trellis if you support the ripening fruit as it grows.
Fertilize again with a 5-10-5 fertilizer when the vines begin to spread out, and a third time when the fruit begins to form. At this time, give a dose of Boron (1 tablespoon of Borax in 1 gallon water) to sweeten the fruit.
Like other melons, there are two types of flowers, male and female. The male flowers, appearing first, will not set fruit. The female flowers, with the bulb at the flower base, are the ones that produce the melons.
When the fruit is maturing, prevent rotting by placing the melon on some straw or cardboard.
Pests and other Problems:
All melons share the same pest problems: Aphids, Cucumber Beetles and Squash Vine Borer Moths. Use ladybugs to control the Aphids; companion plant with Nasturtium or Oregano to deter the Cucumber Beetle and Squash Vine Borer.
It is also susceptible to Fusarium wilt, which is kept in check by crop rotation.
It is hard to determine exactly when to pick your watermelon. Some tips to look for are:
The tendril nearest the vine attached to the melon dries up;
The contrasting green color on the top of the melon decreases;
The spot where the melon touches the ground turns light yellow instead of white;
The skin turns rough, and feels slightly ridged;
The melon produces a dull muffled sound when thumped.
Always cut the melon from the vine to avoid damaging the vine and leaves.
If kept in the refrigerator, a melon will lose its color. If kept at room temperature, the color intensifies.
And here’s something I just learned: the Watermelon rind (the white part between the red fruit and the green skin) is loaded with nutrients and fiber. Instead of throwing it out, you can make it into smoothies to get its benefits.
Keep your melons seeds for next year. Get seeds from the biggest and sweetest fruits. Wash, dry carefully, and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The key here is keeping the seeds cool and dry.
You know summer is here when Watermelon stands begin sprouting on the sides of the highways. But you can grow your own at home with these tips, and enjoy fresh, sweet tasting watermelons any time!