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Seedless Watermelons: Juicy Food for Thought

1/10/2011 3:22:17 PM

Tags: seedless watermelon, seedless watermelons, growing watermelons, melons

seedless watermelon I grew some heavenly seedless watermelons last year. They were the size of a large cantaloupe with a dark green, striped rind and beautiful, deep red flesh — just the way a good watermelon should be. As sweet as the sweetest watermelon you've ever tasted, and every delicious bite was undisturbed by a bothersome seed to have to spit out. Plus, they sold very well at the farmers market — we were even able to ask for more for a small, seedless watermelon than a larger, seeded watermelon.

Planting the Seeds for Seedless Watermelons

Last summer was the first time I ever attempted to grow these watermelons. I selected ‘Solitaire Hybrid’ carried by Totally Tomatoes. I wanted a small, red-fleshed variety, and this one seemed like a good choice. I used a no-till approach to preparing a patch for my watermelons. In early spring, I heavily covered a 10-by-30-foot piece of fertile ground where fescue grass grew with recycled paper feed bags and old ryegrass hay. By the time the plants were ready for transplanting, the ground was mostly workable, with just a few hard pieces of sod to remove during planting.

The package of seeds came with ten seedless seeds, and then a packet of pollinator seeds. When growing seedless (triploid) watermelons, you must have a normal (diploid) watermelon growing alongside to provide the pollination. The pollinator can be any watermelon as long as it is blooming during the same time frame as the seedless variety. Since this one was a smaller, shorter season variety, ‘Sugar Baby’ watermelons made a good pollinator choice.

Seedless watermelon plants are less vigorous than normal ones, and should be started indoors and slowly hardened to the outdoor conditions. Expect to keep them indoors four to six weeks, and to plant them outdoors no earlier than mid-May. Seedless seeds are more expensive as well, and it is good to take care when germinating them. I have good luck starting seeds in soil on top of my upright freezer: It stays warm there and is a perfect environment for germination. Any area whether dark or light, as long as it's close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit consistently, will speed germination. Using jiffy pots with a good potting soil works very well.

As soon as the seedlings appear they should be closely placed under grow lights or fluorescent bulbs. Keeping them in a cooler environment at this point will also help them not become too leggy, which can be a problem for any plant of the watermelon family.  I transplanted them outdoors after they had their third or fourth leaf and had been hardened-off (setting the plants outdoors for longer periods of time everyday for a week).

I made hills about five feet apart through the center of the patch. For each hill, a one-foot area of soil was worked and amended with a small amount of decomposed hay/manure mixture from where the cattle ate hay all winter. One seedless plant and ‘Sugar Baby’ pollinators were planted in each hill. The ‘Sugar Baby’ melons were planted as seeds at this time, and because those seeds are easily acquired —and cheaper than the seedless variety — I placed three seeds in the hill and then thinned the smaller ones after they came up. ‘The Sugar Baby’ plants took off quickly and were always more vigorous and healthier looking than the seedless variety.

They all did grow and set on plenty of fruit, and both varieties did very well. There were about twice as many ‘Sugar Baby’ melons, but there was a good harvest of seedless as well. It was also a good long crop, lasting until late summer. Even better, the plants thrived in the mulched area with little watering.

Food For Thought

I am thinking of growing seedless watermelons again this summer. But I wrestle with some concerns about these plants. They grew beautiful, yummy produce that was very marketable. Yet, it seems a little odd to grow something that has been bred to defy its most internally motivated job: to procreate by making seeds for the next generation. I realize that this is just a very intricate form of hybridization, and I have never had a problem with using hybrids, but I'm not sure how I feel about this. Is this a technological advance that we should just appreciate for what it is, and not overanalyze, or are we taking too much nature into our own hands? Is it more important for us to respect the plants’ need to reproduce and do our job of spitting out the seeds?

With all the continual scientific advances made with plants and horticulture in general, it will always be up to us to be thoughtful and responsive with our concerns and beliefs. But, wherever your thoughts and feelings lie, look forward to the hot days of summer and cold, juicy, sweet, fresh watermelon...seeds or no seeds.

 



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Post a comment below.

 

David Green
11/25/2013 5:56:30 PM
No plant can be a "pollinator" for another plant - a pollinator carries the pollen, and this job belongs to the bees. Plants that supply viable pollen (daddy plants) are "pollenizers." That's an important distinction in terminology. That said, I agree with Chris. I don't mind seeds in my watermelons; in fact I save them for the next year's crop. My garden produces lovely "Moon and Stars" melons - an old heirloom that I'd sure like to preserve.

Chris Sharpsteen
1/13/2011 5:43:16 PM
Watermelons without seeds have that don't have to spit factor that appeals to our "do it easy nature". Seedless melons leave the gardener at the mercy of the seed company and that becomes the dilemma. Some companies work hard to work with the gardener and others try to own the right to the seed and squeeze the farmer. It is our job to support those farm friendly seed companies so we can have the choice to access both worlds.

Sherry Leverich Tucker
1/12/2011 6:52:21 PM
Thanks for your comments, Nick. I think it is a little odd eating a seedless watermelon, too. Especially since it seems like part of the "watermelon heritage" to spit out seeds. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for our very seedy friend in the major grocery markets. I can assure you, though, that there will likely be a variety of seeded watermelons available at farmer's markets. Thanks, again, and take care!

sir_brady
1/12/2011 9:56:34 AM
regarding your food for thought. I remember when eating one of these with my wife last summer, and commenting on how unnatural it was to be eating a watermelon without seed. I had to pipe up that when my daugher is old she probally wont believe us when we say "when we were your age, our watermelons had seeds in them." after that day i made a point to search for seeded watermelons in our grocery store. and you know what? not once was there a SEEDED watermelon. some more food for thought nick







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