OUT IN THE YARD: Inside scoop on watermelons

Published 12:29 am Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer is a time for vacations, swimming, and watermelons!  Watermelons have always been a part of my life.  My mother craved watermelon while she was pregnant, and my father grew watermelons when I was young.  He would take me and my brother to my grandfather’s Kirbyville farm, and we would pick Charleston Gray watermelons that were almost as large as us.  Then we would haul them home to Port Arthur and sell them out of the back of his truck.  Those are great memories! To grow or purchase great tasting watermelons, a few simple steps should be followed.

Growing watermelons requires fertile soil, fertilizer, a lot of space, and the right weather at the right time.  For maximum yields, a spot should be chosen that will give watermelons at least eight hours of direct sunlight.  The ground should first be prepared by tilling in several inches of compost or organic matter and garden fertilizer and then creating a raised bed or row that is 6 inches high and 12 inches wide.  Watermelons should be planted by seed or transplants in warm soil after the danger of frost has passed.  Seeds should be planted ¾ to 1 inch deep. 

Transplants should be planted 4 to 6 feet apart or seedlings thinned after they have grown their second set of leaves.  When the vines begin to run, about three tablespoons of a high nitrogen fertilizer should be worked into the soil around each hill.  The fertilizer, however, should not touch the plants.  If applying an organic fertilizer, more may needed since it does not contain as much nitrogen.  Once the fertilizer is in place, a layer of organic mulch such as hay, rice hulls, or grass clippings should be applied to conserve water and prevent weeds.  If newspaper is spread on the ground before applying the mulch, fewer weeds will grow.  Watermelons need to be watered to a depth of 6 inches while they are developing, but a week before they are ripe, they should only be watered enough to keep the vines from wilting.  Withholding water causes sugar to concentrate in the melons.

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When is a watermelon ripe?  This is a question asked by gardeners and store customers alike.  The same principles used to pick a ripe watermelon in the field/garden can be used when finding the perfect watermelon at the store.  The tendril next to the watermelon (only seen in the field) should be brown, and the underside of the watermelon that lies on the ground should be a white or cream color, not green. Finally, the melon can be thumped or patted with your hand.  If the thump is high pitched, it is not ripe.  If it is a low, dull sound, it is overripe.  Somewhere in between is perfect.

Enjoy a cool refreshing water melon this summer! If you have any questions or comments, you can reach Jefferson County Certified Master Gardener, Melissa Starr, at melynstarr@hotmail.com or call Texas A & M AgriLife Extension office at 409-835-8461.