Guide to Growing Watermelon

Everything you need to know to grow watermelons, plus recipes for watermelon ice, watermelon pickles and a melon bowl.

| June/July 1999

What to Plant

Practically every garden catalog offers several varieties of watermelon. I counted more than 30 in my half-dozen catalogs alone. There's a melon for everyone: bush and midgets for small gardeners; vines that produce icebox, picnic and family sized melons; melons with skin tones ranging from green gray to green striped to yellow, with centers of red, pink, white and yellow. There are seedy and seedless varieties, and melons shaped round, oval, long or thin. And each catalog description contains such tantalizing adjectives as "mouthwatering," "sweet," "juicy" and "delicious" everything a watermelon is supposed to be!

Seed prices range considerably I've seen everything from $3.55 per 1/2 ounce to $2.75 per ounce-depending on the catalog and melon variety. Buy your seeds from a company whose service and quality you've come to trust.

Selecting Seeds

To find a melon suited to your particular growing season, read the fine print in your catalogs. I think the reason we never grew melons when I was a kid was that Pennsylvania summers just aren't as long and hot as Midwestern summers. But that need not stop northern gardeners. Several varieties have been developed that require a much shorter growing season. Northern gardeners can also get a jump on their season by starting plants indoors.

Short season varieties include Sugar Baby, which is listed in every one of my catalogs, a testament to its popularity. Taking only 70 days from seed to ripe fruit, this melon is round, dark green and weighs eight to 12 pounds thus, an icebox variety. Yellow Doll, an All-America Gold winner and about the earliest melon you can grow, ripens in 65 days, weighs only six to eight pounds and has an attractive variegated green-striped skin. Park's Honey Red produces round, seedless, eight inch melons in only 65 days.

Space saver varieties are bush type plants that can be grown as close as two and-a-half feet apart. Park's Garden Baby Hybrid grows into a mere four- or five foot compact vine and produces melons in only 75 days. Gurney's Bush jubilee takes only a third the growing space of regular melons, but produces 13pound green-striped fruits-the largest found on a bush-type plant.

Long-season melon varieties, as you might expect, provide a bigger fruit. Gurney's Cobb Gem produces melons of up to 130 pounds in 100 days! A market variety weighing 35 to 40 pounds, Rattlesnake (Gurney's) ripens in 90 days. Charleston, a popular variety sold by several seed companies, is said to never have a "hollow heart," regardless of drought or heat of summer. It also resists sunburn. Taking 85 days to mature,the ripened fruits weigh about 30 pounds.

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