Grow watermelons in containers

Gardening 101: How to grow watermelon in a pot or a container?

Shrinag April 6, 2017 618 Views 0 SaveSavedRemoved 0

Love watermelon? Who doesn’t? We all crave for this iconic summer fruit that comes with a soft red pulp and the feel of gulping the nip of the juice oozing from it is just out of the world. One just has to relish it. Watermelon being rich in water content, it is recommended to have it in our summer diet. This big, sweet and juicy fruit that we buy from the market may not be as fresh as home grown melons. Then, is it possible to grow them at home?

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Yes, you can plant them in your balcony or you can grow them in a small pot or a container. Today, let us know everything about it in detail from choosing a pot, pruning, pollination to harvesting and some useful tips. Let us know how to grow watermelon in a pot or a container.

Choosing a pot

Watermelon has a long taproot and so to grow them in a pot, sow the seeds directly into it. As it has a longer taproot, choose a large pot or a bucket which is at least 2 feet deep and has some good width.

Ideal temperature to grow

The temperature should be quite sunny. If you are growing them on a balcony or on a roof garden where there is a lack of light then make use of a trellis. Ensure that trellis should be minimum 4 feet in height and strong enough to carry the weight of melons. The optimal temperature is 18-30 C and can also be grown at the temperature of about 10-35 C.

Soil Conditions

Use sandy and bountiful soil. Check the soil pH and it should be around 6 – 6.8. The arable and well-drained soil will help in the growth of the plant. Use cow manure to improve the texture of soil that constantly add nutrients to it.

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How much water is needed?

Watermelon demands more water. To grow them in a pot or a container, you need to water them daily and sometimes twice a day if the temperature is warm. Do not make the soil wet but keep it moist and ensure that water should drain freely from the bottom of your pot. Once you see an improvement in the growth then gradually reduce the watering. This period is crucial and any case of overwatering or underwatering may not get you the sweetest melons.

Interesting Read: Garden your Home Garnish Your Living

Fertilizer and Care

Use a liquid fertilizer and once you see a plant flowering and emerge to set fruits then use a fertilizer which has a less nitrogen content. When it comes to pruning, allow only the main vine to grow and ensure to cut the side branches when the plant is young. Regularly monitor to remove those stems that are diseased or damaged. Also, there are chances of pests causing a damage when the plant is exposed to either too hot weather or too cold weather. Commonly observed pests are cucumber beetles and garden pests like aphids.

Also Read: Top 5 prevention tips for a Pest-free Summer

Harvesting

Usually, it begins after 80-90 days of seed sowing and between 30 – 50 days after flowering. It depends on the climate, season and you will see several harvests depending on the climatic conditions.

If you want to check whether the fruit is ripe or not then you need to do it manually as the ripe fruit doesn’t look special with merely no change in color and smell. One way is to knock on its surface. If you hear a dead or hollow sound then it is a sign that fruit is ripe and if the trendil looks fully faded then it is overripe.

Few useful tips-

  • Watermelon plants are a heavy feeder and so use a lot of organic matter in fertilizer. Composting is required in every 3 – 4 weeks. Remove the topsoil if you find a lack of space in the container.
  • Do not allow the plant to set more than 2 -3 fruits at the same time to get the best quality yield. Successful planting and a regular harvesting say 2 – 4 plants after every 2 weeks would do.
  • Take care of the temperature in which the plant is being grown. An exposure to extreme climatic conditions (warm and cold) at the stage of maturity can result in less sweet fruits.

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PHOTO: Jessica Walliserby Jessica Walliser August 10, 2017

It seems that gardeners are increasingly turning to containers to grow vegetables, not only to maximize yields but also to reduce maintenance needs. That said, some veggies are harder to grow in pots than others, and among the most challenging is the watermelon.

The vines of most watermelon varieties grow as long as 10 feet, making them a tough crop for container gardeners trying to save space. Watermelons also have thirsty roots that require frequent irrigation, and each vine produces only one or two melons, a yield that’s far from ideal for space-starved gardeners.

Thankfully, growing watermelons in containers is now possible (and super-fun!) thanks to a relatively new container-friendly variety called sugar pot watermelon.

About Sugar Pot Watermelon

Sugar pot watermelon vines stay very compact, reaching just 18 to 20 inches in length, but the fruits it produces are a decidedly hearty 8 to 10 pounds each. The flesh is sweet and red with pure watermelon flavor.

I grew sugar pot watermelon on my patio last summer for the first time, and I had great success. Here’s the technique I used.

How to Grow Sugar Pot Watermelon in Containers

Step 1: Choose a Large Container

For sugar pot to perform its best, you’ll need a minimum of 7 to 10 gallons of potting soil for each vine. Last year, I grew three sugar pot watermelon plants in a 30-gallon glazed-ceramic pot. The plants did quite well and the pot didn’t dry out all the time.

Step 2: Fill the Pot With the Right Soil

Since watermelons are fairly heavy feeders that do not like to dry out, a high-quality potting mix blend is a must. To grow my sugar pot watermelons, I mixed my favorite organic potting soil with finished compost at a 50/50 ratio. The potting soil keeps the mixture light and well draining while the compost aids in moisture retention and introduces nutrients and beneficial soil microbes to the plants.

Step 3: Sow the Seeds of Sugar Pot Watermelon

Plant one to three seeds per pot, depending on the size of the container. (See Step 1 above.) Bury each seed to a depth of about one inch, and water them in well.

Step 4: Put the Pot in Full Sun & Keep Plants Watered

After planting the seeds, make sure the soil stays continually moist, all the way through harvest time. Do not, however, allow any water to sit in a saucer beneath the pot as that can lead to root rot. You should also not subject the vines to extended dry periods followed by lots of irrigation, especially when the fruits are nearly ripe as this can cause the fruits’ skins to crack open or the flavor to be diluted. Jessica Walliser

Step 5: Fertilize

Even though the compost you added to your container will provide some nutrients to your sugar pot watermelon vines, they’ll still need supplemental fertilization during the growing season. I use liquid fish emulsion or an organic liquid fertilizer to feed all my container-grown vegetables every three weeks, starting when the seedlings develop their first true leaves.

Step 6: Harvest the Fruits

Sugar pot watermelons reach maturity 80 to 85 days after sowing the seeds. To check for ripeness, look for a yellow spot on the underside of the fruit. Also check the curly tendril closest to where the fruit’s stem attaches to the vine. When that curly tendril turns completely brown and dies, that’s a sign the melon is ready for harvest. Do not pick watermelons too early as they will not ripen once severed from the vine.

Ripe watermelons will not separate from their stem; instead, you’ll have to cut the melon from the vine with a pair of pruners or a sharp knife.

Seeds of sugar pot watermelon are available from Territorial Seed and Log House Plants.

I’ve had mixed results with growing watermelon in Florida. However, some of my problems had to do with timing and my own underestimation of how large these plants actually grow.

The best time to plant watermelon in Florida is in the early spring and once again in the early fall. Florida has an ideal climate for growing watermelon and is a leading producer of the fruit.

There are a number of varieties of watermelon that grow well in Florida. Read on to find out about the different varieties as well as how much space you should give these guys and exactly when you should plant.

When To Plant Watermelon In Florida

The date will change, depending on where you live. North, central and south Florida will all have slightly different planting times.

  • North Florida: Mar-Apr & July
  • Central Florida: Jan-Mar & Aug
  • South Florida: Jan-Mar & Aug-Sep

Watermelon thrives when temperatures are around 80°F. The plant can handle temperatures around 90°F but you might notice less fruit production when temperatures are regularly this high.

Temperatures below 50°F may result in decreased fruit quality. Melons that are grown in lower temperatures usually have much less flavor.

Watermelons take anywhere from 65-90 days to produces fruit. Use the dates above as a guideline and your best judgment to determine the best planting date.

Best Varieties of Watermelon To Grow In Florida

A Jubilee variety of watermlon growing in Florida

There are a number of different watermelon varieties that will grow in Florida. the fruits on these plants can range anywhere from 6-50 pounds according to UF.

There are large varieties of watermelon and also smaller varieties, in both fruit production and growth habit. the size of your growing area may limit you in which variety you choose.

Watermelon Varieties

  • Large – Charleston Grey 133, Crimson Sweet, Jubilee, Moons & Stars
  • Small – Icebox, Mickeylee, Sugar Baby

Another good thing to keep in mind is where you are going to store your melons when they are harvested. I ran into a fridge space problem the last time I harvested mine, my fridge doesn’t really have space for 2 20lb melons!

Best Location For Watermelon

Watermelons need plenty of space, sunshine, and water. plants can really spread. I severely underestimated the size of these plants the first time I grew them. The vines can spread to be over 7 feet long.

I had a 12-foot garden bed and one plant spread the entire length.

Plant seeds in an area that receives at least 8 hours of sunshine every day.

Watermelons aren’t super picky plants when it comes to soil. The only thing that you need to do is to make sure that it is well-draining. The plants don’t do well when grown in muddy and mucky soil.

I’ve always had good luck with a soil mix that looks something like this:

  • 40% Coco coir (Check price on Amazon)
  • 40% Compost (You can get it on Amazon but I’ve found it way cheaper at local stores)
  • 20% perlite (Check price on Amazon)
  • Worm castings (Check price on Amazon)
  • Mykos (Check price on Amazon)

You can most of these things at your local nursery. The coco coir can be replaced with peat moss. The mykos isn’t 100% necessary but I have noticed good results with it.

This soil mixture is pretty good at retaining water, but a nice thick layer of mulch is a must. Watermelons are thirsty plants and you need to make sure that they get a drink frequently.

Planting Watermelon

Watermelons don’t do the best when they are transplanted. It’s a good idea to plant your seed directly into the garden. I’m not saying that you can’t transplant watermelons, because you can, but you must be very gentle with them.

Each variety will have slightly different space requirements, check the seed packet for those. But a general rule of thumb for growing watermelons is to plant seeds 36 inches apart and give a row spacing of 7 to 8 feet.

Fertilizing Watermelon

Watermelons, like tomatoes, are harvested for their fruits. They are unlike collards or kale, which are harvested for their leafy greens.

Fruiting plants benefit from fertilizers that are focused on phosphorous, while plants whose primary focus is leaf growth benefit from nitrogen focused fertilizers.

The 3 numbers that you see on bags of fertilizer are the N(nitrogen)- P(phosphorus)- K(Potassium) values. Nitrogen promotes green leafy growth, Phosphorous promotes healthy root developments and flower production and potassium is a good overall health booster.

Watermelon Pests And Diseases

The most common pest that I ran into when growing watermelons was aphids. They are tiny little greenish / yellow bugs that live on the undersides of leaves.

They pierce the plant with their tiny little mouths and pass diseases and viruses to the plant.

Aphids living on a watermelon plant

If you see ants crawling on your plants this is a sign that aphids may be nearby. The ants like to farm aphids in order to eat sweet honeydew that the bugs secrete.

Any easy way to handle aphids is by spraying your plant with neem oil (check price on Amazon). There are plenty of pesticides that contain neem oil. I try to avoid those, but 100% neem oil is safe and a great pest deterrent.

You may also run into a few caterpillars, cabbage loopers and army worms. An effective way to control any kind of worm or caterpillar is the use of B.t.(Check price on Amazon).

Harvesting Watermelons

From the time you plant your seeds until you harvest your melons, you can expect to wait about 60-90 days.

Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way of telling when a watermelon is completely ripe. There are a few things that you can look for though that will give you a good idea.

First, check out the bottom of the fruit. The spot where it’s been laying on the ground should be a nice golden yellow when ripe. It will be a pale milky color when unripe.

Also, look at the tendril closest to the melon. When that shrivels up and turns brown that is another sign that the melon may be ripe.

You can expect to get anywhere from 2-4 watermelons per plant.

Do You Need To Prune Watermelon?

Below is a good video on how to properly prune a watermelon. This can save you some space when growing your plants.

However, you don’t want to prune too heavily before fruit set. Watermelons make both male and female flowers and they need both in order to set fruit.

So if you prune your plant away too early you may not have enough flowers for the necessary pollination to happen.

Harvest time: Double cropping — a watermelon season preview

THE END OF APRIL marks the beginning of watermelon harvest season in Central Florida, and for growers like Andy McDonald, it’s especially sweet. That’s because McDonald double crops, planting the watermelon seedlings in his Plant City strawberry fields.

McDonald takes advantage of any lull in strawberry picking in early February to place the plants into every third row. “If we waited, it would be too late to plant the watermelons,” he explains.

McDonald also saves on fertilizer and water by double cropping on 500 acres at Sweet Life Farms. “We utilize the plastic and drip tape that we already have for the strawberries,” he says. “The strawberries are dominating the nutrient uptake until we bring the strawberries off.”

When the strawberry harvest is over, the plants are chopped to make way for the watermelons. Crowding saves even more water and fertilizer while allowing the plants to grow laterally. Though there are challenges, growing watermelons is “a lot easier” than growing strawberries, according to McDonald.

Florida is a good place to be if you want to grow watermelons. Steve Nichols, manager of the Lakeland-based Global Produce Sales, says that is because the season starts here for U.S. growers. “Watermelon production sort of moves up the country as it becomes spring,” he says. “It moves up as the temperatures heat up.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida harvests watermelons year round, but it is the only source of watermelons in the United States between December and April. The majority of its watermelons are picked from May to July.

Florida exported more fresh watermelons than any other state in 2014, accounting for one-third of U.S. exports. According to U.S. Census trade data, it exported $41.36 million in watermelons, an increase of more than four percent over 2013. The higher rate is attributed to its growing season, which falls outside of the traditional mid-summer season for northern states.

Among the challenges of growing watermelons in Central Florida, is, ironically, too much water. “We need fairly dry weather for the best melons,” Nichols states. While growers can compensate for too little moisture, there’s no way to compensate for too much rain. “If you get too much rain that’s one of the worst things that can happen to you,” he observes. “Even though they’re called watermelons, you don’t need too much.”

Watermelons are 92 percent water, but too much water during the growing season actually affects the taste. As a result, growers want their crops picked by June when it gets hot and wet, Nichols points out.

Global Produce Sales markets watermelons primarily to chain stores and wholesalers in the eastern part of the United States. But the company also ships to Puerto Rico and Canada. In addition to marketing watermelons for Sweet Life Farms, it oversees approximately 900 acres of watermelons on the western shores of Lake Okeechobee at Moore Haven.

Like other growers, Nichols enjoys watching the watermelon plants grow and develop fruit. “Producing something, that is the exciting thing,” he states. A third-generation watermelon entrepreneur, Nichols says growers face challenges like finding pickers and combating disease.

However, there’s a lot of positive news about watermelons. Not only is watermelon a great source of lycopene, it also provides several important vitamins: A, B6, C, and potassium. “Watermelon is a terrific choice for blood flow, blood pressure, and heart health,” says Stephanie Barlow, senior director of communications for the Winter Springs-based National Watermelon Promotion Board. Watermelon research has shown positive benefits in a variety of published studies available here: watermelon.org/IndustryMembers/Watermelon-Research

Traditionally known as picnic food for the Fourth of July, it’s a popular choice any time because large melons can serve several people. It’s also available in seedless, seeded, and mini varieties. Consumption has increased with the development of seedless varieties, which are more convenient, sweeter, and have a longer shelf life, the USDA reports. Notably, seedless varieties must be interplanted with seeded watermelons to pollinate.

According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, the United States is the fifth largest producer of watermelons worldwide. Florida is a top producer, along with Texas, California, Georgia, and Arizona.

While watermelons and strawberries combine well in the field, some of the watermelon’s relatives also pair well with strawberry crops, McDonald says. Which ones? Canteloupes, squash, and cucumbers.

CREDIT

article by CHERYL ROGERS

Posted April 15, 2016

Tags: canteloupes, Central Florida, cucumbers, double crop, exports, farming, fertilizer, Global Produce Sales, harvest, heart health, irrigation, lycopene, melons, National Watermelon Promotion Board, Plant City, seedless, squash, strawberries, U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, vitamins, water, watermelon

Florida — the watermelon STATE

“The true southern watermelon is a boon apart and not to to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of the world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one one has has tasted tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.” — Mark Twain, “Puddn’head Wilson”

M R. TWAIN, IT TURNS OUT, IS AMONG a legion of Americans who have unabashedly declared their devotion to the watermelon. The humble watermelon — without the water, it’s an ordinary melon — is a Superman of the fruit world (some argue adamantly that it’s a vegetable). Loaded with vitamins A and C and fiber, it’s even nice enough to offer a rind to hold onto while savoring every bite. Still, who’s ever gotten through a wedge without a little juice dribbling down the chin, arm or bare leg? The watermelon, in all its sweet and messy glory, is as much an icon of the Sunshine State as the orange, the sabal palm and the mosquito.

Duane Hobby and the fruits of his labor.

Without watermelon, there would be no coming-of-age county fair seed-spitting contests and year-long bragging rights, watermelon queens or even a Tracy Byrd country ballad crooning about a wine-induced crawl after imbibing in too much of its fermented liquid form. Add to its long list of attributes nutrition-packed goodness and its ability to elicit smiles that stretch from roadside vendors along country roads to some of the state’s finest restaurants. Why even the shape of a half-wedge is a big red grin.

Horace Brittain of Brittain Farms holds one of his last Southwest Florida watermelons of the year.

“I’d hate to live in a world without watermelon,” says Eva Webb, assistant director of field services for Florida Farm Bureau’s District 8 covering Palm Beach, Collier, Broward, Miami-Dade, Hendry and Glades counties. “There’s nothing better than watermelon on a hot day, ice cold and crisp.”

She’s seen a world partially devoid of watermelon and it ain’t pretty. “I’m originally from up north so I remember waiting all winter for the first watermelons. They were like sunshine.”

In Florida, Ms. Webb has found watermelon nirvana. Farmers, many of them right here in South and Southwest Florida, provide plucked-from-thefield watermelons during two growing seasons. There’s not a roadside stand, farmers market or supermarket she can pass up after spying those come-hither plump green-striped orbs promising a dose of juicy sweetness.

“They’ve been very sweet this year,” says Ms. Webb, who’s tasted her way throughout much of her district.

The Dr. Oz-approved fruit (we’re going with its horticultural classification) has some of the highest levels of the antioxidant lycopene in the vegetable and fruit kingdom. It may even help you sleep better, “degunk arteries” and reduce blood pressure.

And the good doctor, who’s not the least bit bashful about asking the unsuspecting about their poop, has even gone on record noting watermelon’s concentration of l-arginine, an amino acid that helps boosts circulation and can enhance a man’s, um, manhood.

The LongHorn Steakhouse Grilled Watermelon Wedge Salad.

No wonder more Americans — men and women — are eating more watermelon. Annual consumption has increased from about 12 pounds per person in the 1980s to 15.7 pounds in 2010, a banner year nationally with 4.1 billion pounds and the largest harvest in 63 years.

A world of watermelon in Florida

Florida — surprise — is the top watermelon producing state in the union, occasionally getting bumped off by Texas and California. Many local farmers, fed up with delicate oranges and other finicky citrus, have sworn off those crops to focus solely on watermelon. The fruit thrives during our amiable late fall and early winter months and again in the spring and is Florida-fresh through Memorial Day. Despite containing 92 percent water, watermelons ironically don’t fare well during Florida’s rainy season.

Summertime is the right time for watermelon in Florida.

About the only time Rich Chastain isn’t shipping the fruit through his Melon 1 brokerage, which works with growers from Immokalee and Arcadia to Delaware and Maryland, is right around Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s difficult to get folks thinking about watermelon stuffing or a watermelon salad alongside the traditional turkey or ham although any county fair watermelon carving champ worth his salt could easily create a holiday-appropriate sculpture, rendered in the requisite red and green.

A staple of Memorial Day and Fourth of July backyard barbecues, the watermelon is beginning to appear on menus far and wide, thanks to the promotional efforts of guys like Jim Barfield, a farmer and president of the 210-member Immokalee-based Florida Watermelon Association. The association is devoted to getting the word out about Floridafresh watermelons and clueing in tourists on the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy.

“We’re not just Mickey Mouse and beaches,” says Mr. Barfield, a thirdgeneration farmer who’s been farming 30 years since college graduation in 1984 and growing watermelon exclusively the past decade. This year he planted 500 acres at his Wolf Island farm in Immokalee and another farm in Lake Placid, shipping watermelon throughout Florida, the northeast and into Canada.

“We harvest all by hand,” he says. “On our best day, we filled 25 semis with a million pounds.”

In 2012, Florida watermelon growers cashed in on $138 million, providing 27 percent of the total U.S. value. A cold snap in March affected the 2013 yield.

Restaurants are also honing in on watermelon as a symbol of summer in seasonal menus. Mr. Chastain’s Punta Gorda C&L Farm and Packaging and Gulfshore Produce in Fort Myers were singled out to supply Florida grown watermelon to LongHorn Steakhouse’s 60 Florida restaurants. It plays a starring role in the chain’s grilled watermelon wedge salad on its Peak Season menu offered through August.

A fourth-generation watermelon farmer, Mr. Chastain and his consortium of growers sold more than 1,200 semi loads of watermelon harvested from area fields and are gearing up in Georgia. During the peak, they were filling 200 loads a day.

“We supply most every chain store east of the Mississippi,” says Mr. Chastain. “Locally, Winn-Dixie carried our watermelons. So did BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club. About the only store we don’t sell is Publix.”

LaBelle farmer Duane Hobby has the Publix market cornered. His fruit is sold whole for Memorial Day but most of it ends up in those handy-dandy graband go clamshell containers, either solo or as part of a fruit salad. He’s also Florida Farm Bureau’s exclusive watermelon purveyor for Palm Beach County’s annual Sweet Corn Fiesta, which celebrates another I-didn’t-know-theygrow it-here crop.

“Duane grows the best watermelon,” says Ms. Webb.

Follow the watermelon

Mr. Hobby speaks with a fast Florida drawl. Almost as fast as this year’s harvest. Within three weeks, most of the watermelons on Mr. Hobby’s rented 350 acres, a sugarcane field on a oneyear vacation, were ready to be handcut from the vine. He was finished right before Memorial Day, filling some 200 semi loads with 8 million pounds of fruit destined for Publix stores in the Jacksonville and Atlanta markets and northward-bound Kroger stores and retailers in Philadelphia and North Dakota. His hometown Winn-Dixie also carried his watermelons.

Some years he produces 10 million pounds.

Mr. Hobby remembers his father dabbling in growing stuff during his childhood but not enough that the younger Mr. Hobby isn’t rightfully a first-generation farmer. He used to build packinghouse machinery to help with the harvest but somehow got sucked into farming, watermelon exclusively since the early 1990s.

Mr. Chastain’s great-grandfather was growing watermelons in southwest Georgia four generations back, and his four children, including 4-year-old twin boys, are already being groomed for the family business.

“We had a very good season and the best quality and volume we’ve had in four or five years,” says Mr. Chastain.

Mr. Barfield’s family has been farming South Florida since 1928, and his eldest son represents the fourth generation. Times has brought many changes. Gone are the friendly farm-to-farm contests to grow the biggest his father once vividly described. For the record, the largest watermelon topped the scales at 262 pounds and was grown in Tennessee. But the biggest game-changer has been the perfection of the seedless watermelon — a development whose debut took place in the equivalent of yesterday in the fruit’s 6,000-year history.

From Africa to Egypt and beyond

Watermelon, or citrullus lanatus, gets more ink in the “Cambridge World History of Food” than its related cucurbits, mainly cucumbers and melons. Introduced by Spanish settlers in Florida around 1570, its role as a food source dates back six millennia to northern African and southwestern Asia, providing life-sustaining water in desert climates. Ancient Egyptians thought enough of the watermelon to immortalize it in hieroglyphics on building walls and deposit seeds and leaves in the tombs of the newly departed.

Trade routes opened up the fruit’s worldwide propagation, reaching India by 800, China in 1100 and Spain as early as 961. Watermelons made their first appearance in England nearly two decades after arriving in the New World.

President Thomas Jefferson grew watermelons at Monticello; transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau in Concord, Mass.

The seed: Which came first?

Seedless watermelon seems an oxymoron or, at the very least, unstainable. About 95 percent of each local farm’s crop is seedless, begging the question: How do they reproduce?

They don’t.

Seedless watermelons were developed 40 years ago but only mastered in the last decade, according to Cambridge, a mere blip in the fruit’s chronology. Crossing two plants with incompatible chromosomes, creates the triploid, the seedless watermelon that’s sterile, much like the horse-donkey hybrid, the mule.

The seedless variety also costs more: $200 for 1,000 seeds compared to about $60 for seeded. Mr. Hobby says he easily uses 600,000 seeds. The average seeded watermelon contains 1,000 seeds, fine for spitting but not for ease in salad preparation.

“When I was a kid, we ate regular seeded watermelons, but this is what the industry went to because of the demand for cut-up fruit,” says Mr. Hobby. “Southerners are more prone to seeded watermelon. I ship those to Louisiana and Mississippi.”

We can’t help but think Mr. Twain would be proud.

How to eat a watermelon

Most watermelon lovers are purists. They want a wedge or, for convenience, a grab-and-go container of bite-sized fruit. In Africa’s Kalahari Desert, watermelon is dried into storable strips for humans and livestock and some African cultures prepare it as a vegetable. Seeds are roasted in Asia and the Middle East and in India they’re ground into flour. Watermelon juice is also fermented.

“There’s really no wrong way to eat a watermelon but they’re best fresh from the field, succulent with the juice dripping down your arm,” says Ms. Webb.

“I’m spoiled because I can just cut one up in the field and eat as much as I want,” says Mr. Chastain. “Then I can get another for later in the day.”

Mr. Hobby seems a little taken back by the question. “If I want fruit, I just want fruit,” he says. “The other day I was in Fort Myers and LongHorn had a grilled watermelon salad.”

The Orlandobased LongHorn’s salad, which uses locally grown watermelon, is a play on the traditional wedge salad, says James Messinger, director of culinary development for the 460-restaurant chain. Brushed with honey, flash-grilled then chilled it’s served alongside superfoods kale and quinoa with a sprinkle of goat cheese, a toss of lemon vinaigrette and a drizzle of balsamic.

“Using watermelon really hit home,” the chef says. “We were thinking summertime, picnics, family, hot weather and watermelon instantly popped into our minds.”

The honey and grill combination creates a caramelization akin to crème brûlée with a crunch and sweet soft center. The sweet and savory dish also benefits from the salt of the cheese and the tang of lemon.

“We offer the Peak Season menu four times a year,” says Mr. Messinger. “It allows our chefs to explore new tastes and introduce our guests to trends. The salad has been well received and we’ve had a lot of requests for the recipe.”

For its summer menu, the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Naples has also created two Florida watermelon-derived menu items as its Coast restaurant — a watermelon mojito and gazpacho, both playing upon the fruit’s cooling nature.

The harvest

To say harvesting watermelon is no picnic, might be an understatement. It’s six weeks of grueling, labor-intensive work that requires heavy lifting. Most of Mr. Barfield and Mr. Chastain’s fruit weighs 15.5 to 20 pounds, Mr. Hobby’s watermelons average about 30 pounds but he had many 40 pounders this spring. Farms work 60 to 80 field hands and packers on peak days. An acre in Southwest Florida yields about 50,000 pounds of fruit.

Everything — from planting, to cutting, loading and packaging — is done by hand.

By the time Mr. Hobby’s finished returning his rented field to its prewatermelon condition, he’ll be hunting down the next acreage to plant in August for the smaller fall crop, which will be harvested by Thanksgiving, right around the time he’ll start growing seedlings in the greenhouse for spring.

“For us, it’s a way of life, working the land and producing something people like,” says Mr. Barfield. “It’s been a good business for me and my family to be in.”

Like most farmers, Mr. Hobby shucks off the intensity of the labor. Instead it’s transportation costs and regulations that place watermelon in the high-risk food category, alongside other produce that have caused E. coli, salmonella and listeria outbreaks, that are eating at his bottom line. Because of his arrangement with Publix, Mr. Hobby is subjected to stringent sanitation and food-handling guidelines. His fields and packing facilities are regularly visited by food safety inspectors.

“I have certain liabilities because watermelon has been lumped into everything that has happened with spinach and leafy greens, strawberries and listeria in cantaloupe,” he says. “We’re lobbying to get watermelon out of the high-risk foods. Watermelon doesn’t have a history of making anyone sick.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher because of these cost factors,” he continues. “We’re lucky that overall demand has been good. Watermelon has been steady because of all the cut-up fruit. Even through all the downturn in the economy, we weren’t really affected.” ¦

How to Grow Watermelons in Containers, Flower Pots and Grow Bags

Watermelons can be grown successfully in containers, flower pots and grow bags if they are provided with key elements they require: warmth, plenty of sunshine, nutrients, moist, but well aerated soil.

There are several reasons why would someone grow watermelons in containers, flower pots or grow bags:

– growing watermelons in cold areas: watermelons require warmth for proper growth (around 80°F or 27°C are considered ideal) and are very sensitive to frost. Since they should be sown or transplanted outside at least two weeks after last frost day, this leaves very short window of opportunity for watermelons to be grown outside in some regions. But, sowing watermelon seeds in larger containers or pots indoors enables gardener to keep watermelon plants warm until frost danger is gone. Also, this way there is no need for transplanting watermelons on permanent location – avoiding stress is very important not only for humans, but for plants, too. Watermelons don’t like soil that is below 20°C (68°F) and this can remedied by covering the soil with thin foil or adding manure to the growing medium to increase both temperature and amount of available nutrients.

– better soil control: watermelons prefer rich, well aerated, slightly acidic soil with pH between 6 and 6.8, although they will grow between pH 5 and 7. Pots and containers must have many drainage holes, since watermelons don’t like ‘wet feet’ – waterlogged soil can cause significant issues with roots and prevent successful harvest. If you have garden with soil that is not suitable for watermelons, consider raised beds or containers/pots/grow bags.

– lack of space: watermelons require plenty of space. Choosing smaller varieties save some space, but container growing enables a gardener to grow watermelons where it would otherwise be impossible (for example, roofs, trellis, wire nets embedded in concrete, lawn etc.).

Of course, there are many other reasons for growing watermelons in containers and one of my favorite is – fun! 🙂

Watermelon Varieties for Container Growing

When growing watermelons in containers, compact varieties with relatively small fruits are required. These varieties may include watermelons like (Amazon links – links open in the new windows): Sugar Baby, Orange Sweet, Golden Midget, Crimson Sweet, Yellow Baby, Yellow Doll, Jubilee, Moon and Stars, Jade Star, Golden Crown, Early Moonbeam, Millennium, Solitaire, etc.

Each of these varieties can grow in 5 gallon (~19 liters – lets say it 20 liters) containers (single plant per 5 gallons of growing medium – often soil-less mix is used for indoor or vertical growing). 5 gallons or 20 liters is not much – for example, 12x12x12 inches (1x1x1 foot, ~30x30x30 cm) containers have 7.4 gallons or 27-28 liters of soil and that is more than enough for single compact watermelon plant.

In containers that are for example 1x1x3 feet (0.3×0.3×0.9 m), feel free to sow at least 6-7 seeds and leave only the 3-4 strongest plants to grow and bear fruits.

If you plan on growing larger varieties, consider containers that are 40cm (16 inches) deep and at least 50-60 cm (20-24 inches) wide, with many drainage holes.

Again, this depends on chosen variety and the number of planed plants per container.

When plants start to grow, let the vines spread around or grow vertically on trellis or wire mash/net. Small fruits should be protected from touching wet soil and if they grow vertically, grow them in hammock made out of panty hose, t-shirts or plastic mesh fruit bags.

Growing Medium, Watering and Fertilization

When choosing proper growing medium, the best medium is general potting soil mix that can be found in many garden centers – it is slightly acidic and drains excess water well, but keeps the moisture. Often, such potting soil mixes are rather low on nutrients (to promote root growth), so be sure to check the labels. Anyway, be sure to add some organic fertilizer like dried cow/horse/chicken manure (pellets), compost/humus and NPK fertilizer like 15:15:15 with gradual release of nutrients – watermelons are hungry plants, but too much of fertilizers can cause root burns.

Also, watermelons tolerate rather well raw manure and adding it in small amounts (mixed with straw or peat moss etc.) can increase temperature around roots leading to larger harvest. This mix doesn’t smell well, so if you are not 100% sure what are you doing, skip it!

Watering of plants grown in containers must be done on a daily basis and when temperatures are above 30°C (above 86°F) plants must be watered twice per day. If the plants are grown in larger containers, watering can be done once per day, even during summer heat – water the plants in the morning, and if there are wilting in the morning or in the afternoon, water more often.

One of the possible solutions for watering is dripping system that water plants constantly. If you don’t have dripping system, don’t worry – just take a large plastic soda bottle, fill it with water and stick it into the soil. Some trials and errors are required to learn how to position such bottle to achieve desired water flow, but any excess water will drain away in any case.

Fertilization during vegetation period can be done using liquid fertilizers (once per week) or fertilizers in pellets with gradual release of nutrients (every months). Such fertilizers and their combinations, can be used to easily change amounts and ratios of nutrients in the soil. Watermelons like nitrogen rich soil before flowering, but higher amounts of phosphorus and especially potassium are required for growth of healthy and well formed fruits. Personally, use fertilizers in pellets with gradual release of nutrients for providing most of the nutrients to watermelon plants and use liquid fertilizers to change ratios of nutrients as required.

Pests and Diseases

Root diseases are avoided using new growing medium and avoiding soil from garden.

Slugs and rodents can damage the fruits and plants. Slugs can be removed by hands and damage by rodents can be avoided by growing the plants vertically or by having a cat. Cat will also play important role by defending ripe fruits from birds.

Fungus and other diseases can be treated by water soluble chemicals based on copper (rarely on sulfur). Such chemicals are easily washed away and they don’t penetrate the fruits’ membrane – read the labels even before buying such chemicals.

Growing watermelons in containers, flower pots or grow bags sounds complicated, but it is not – watermelons are demanding plants, but when they are given what they want, they return the favor with large harvest of great tasting fruits.

How to Grow Watermelon in Pots

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Learn how to grow watermelon in pots in order to save garden space, prevent weeds from sprouting, and keep pests away. Growing watermelon in pots or containers is completely doable and will save you a lot of hassle as opposed to growing watermelon in the garden. Especially if you have a small garden or no garden at all (just a balcony), growing watermelon in containers is the way to go!

How to Grow Watermelon in Pots or Containers

The Right Pot or Container

Watermelons grow big and quickly, so you’ll need a big enough pot that can accommodate that. Choose a pot or container that’s at least 5 gallons and has good drainage holes. Watermelons need plenty of water, so proper drainage holes are very important.

Soil Type

Fill the pot or container with potting soil or other soilless mix, and don’t use dirt from the garden. Dirt from the garden can become very compact and may hinder watermelon growth. Next, you’ll need to choose a proper watermelon variety that will thrive in a pot. We recommend you choose smaller, more compact varieties.

Container Approved Watermelon Varieties

Moon and Stars watermelon

Sugar Baby watermelon

Crimson Sweet watermelon

Early Moonbeam watermelon

Jubilee watermelon

Golden Midget watermelon

Jade Star watermelon

Millennium watermelon

Orange Sweet watermelon

Solitaire watermelon

Once your pot is filled with soil, and you’ve chosen a variety, it’s time to plant the seed! Plant the seed 3 times deeper than it is long and water well. Alternatively, you can also plant a seedling that has been started indoors or purchased. Before planting, make sure that all chances of frost have passed.

Watermelon Care

Provide your watermelon plant with plenty of sun and warmth and keep away from high winds.

Water regularly as watermelons need plenty of water to thrive.

Once your plant starts to grow, it will need plenty of support. Watermelons are big and heavy fruit, and need a trellis or some sort of support for their vines.

Once the actual fruit appears, you’ll need to provide support for it. Use a stretchy and flexible material such as a piece of fabric or pantyhose to create a hammock under the fruit. Tie each end of the hammock to the watermelon’s main support. The hammock will stretch as the watermelon grows.

Water your watermelon daily if temperatures are 80F (27C) and under, or twice a day if temperatures exceed that.

Use a fertilizer that is water based once a week or a granular slow release fertilizer once a month.

So now that you know how to grow watermelon in pots or containers, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to planting!

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How to Grow a Giant Watermelon

How to grow giant watermelon by former World Record Holder Ivan Bartol, Italy

Ground

Watermelons require loose soil and prefer soils rich in organic matter. A well-drained soil will help to avoid damaging water stagnation and promotes root development that will allow greater capillary action to provide nourishment to the plant. The space that is required for a giant watermelon plant is approximately 25sqm.

Pollination

This is carried out by transferring the pollen of the male flower inside the female flower. After a few days (48 hours) under the flower pollinated by hand you, the fruit should begin to widen. This task can be made between flowers on the same plant or by crossing different plants (you need to keep the memory of the kind of cross made, perhaps with appropriate signs placed in the vicinity of the fruit , for the inclusion of genetics used to race).

Fertilisation

One of the most important elements of growing giant watermelons is getting the correct level of organic fertilizer into the patch. The manure must be buried in the area in advance of growing watermelons in copious amounts. Cow or sheep manure provides an advanced level of maturity for it to be better assimilated by the plant. It may be advantageous to bury the dung a few months before sowing at a dose of 15-20 kg \ sqm.

The Roots

There are two options for the management of the plant:

Beyond the main root, there is an important function performed by the secondary roots or adventitious roots that grow naturally along the branches of watermelon sometimes even up to a length of 70 cm. It is important, therefore, to encourage the maximum development of these roots keeping the soil surrounding the trunk worked well.

The watermelon is grafted onto a rootstock. The main root of the rootstock will be chosen between the most resistant and vigorous plants.

The Irrigation

It is preferable that drip irrigation is used because this provides better fertiliser management of the plant. The water used to irrigate the watermelon must be at room temperature. If it is too cold, it halts the growth of the plant.

The structure of the plant

Another factor of great importance is how the plant is grown. The main vine should have laterals that are left to grow to around 2 metres and form a fan type shape to the plant.

Fruit Thinning

If you are growing a watermelon for a competition you should leave only one fruit or a maximum of two per plant. You will have to remove all the others that form. It is preferable to choose to leave a fruit that remains at a distance of 2 to 3 metres from the stem and you have to have the foresight to pollinate the first fruits formed when the plant is smaller and wait for it to be established with strength and vigour to grow into a giant watermelon

Orientation of the fruit

Orientation of the fruit is very important if you wish to grow a giant watermelon. This operation consists in moving the watermelon so that its stalk bearing the single flower grows perpendicular to the branch where it is attached. This is to avoid the watermelon growing size wrenches that will put a strain on the stem and mean that the melon will come away from the plant.

Sun and soil

The soil should have a P.H. between 6.5 and 6.8, and be worked to a depth of not less than 40cm. If the depth of the soil is 60 or 80 cm, the plant would have greater benefits for a greater root development. The soil should be deep, loose, well- drained and rich in organic matter. All organic substances are great if macerated and fresh, especially horse manure , cow, sheep and rabbit. The location of the seed or seedling, as well as the preparation of the soil must have good natural sunlight. Good sunlight means that the plant lives in health and develops strongly if the temperature remains between 20 C and 35 °C. The geographical area on earth where the fruits reach the maximum size is between 40° and 50° latitude that corresponds to the Po Valley in Italy. The Emilia, in this regard, is located in the most favorable climate zone (orange areas). Sunlight is the trigger of photosynthesis and therefore growth and development of plant and fruit. If the soil does not have the ideal pH, it can be changed but it takes months. If the soil is below 6 (acidic) you have to add lime at the rate of 25 kg per 100 m². The adjustment of the soil occurs in 4-6 months. If the soil is alkaline, i.e. with a pH greater than 7, one must add sulfur, aluminum sulphate or ammonium sulphate. The organic materials decomposing may vary the pH of the soil. The update test should be repeated every 4-6 months.

It is essential that the plant is protected from wind and excessive solar heat. The plant must be protected, with barriers to wind and sun screens to reduce 25-30% of the direct sunlight . Soil moisture is the secret of growth and an irrigation system is the preferred option for watering the plants.

The Seed

The seed can be placed directly in the ground or in pots in a propagator, but in both cases the soil must have a temperature not lower than 15°C. The seed must germinate as quickly as possible.

Selected Fruits

Although the variety Carolina Cross has great energy, you should leave one watermelon to set without artificially pollinating it. Pollinate between 3 and 4 fruits and select the best looking watermelon.

Further Reading


GWG : www.giantwatermelongrowers.com

EGVGA : www.egvga.webs.com

Miss Watermelon www.facebook.com / proloco.novellara

GPC : www.greatpumpkincommonwealth.com

Growing Giant Watermelons with a North Carolina Champion

Meet Todd Dawson of Garner, North Carolina.

A giant watermelon grower since 2010, Todd has seen melons break state and world records, but the 2018 growing season has exposed an all new aspect to his hobby.

“This year I decided to grow a couple of melons on scales,” Todd explains. “But I think watching the weight will just about drive you crazy.”

For giant growers, the weight is everything.

Todd guides me over to the first melon, covered with a gray-and-brown tarp and proudly displaying its weight on a digital scale. An impressive set-up, as the scale is exposed to the elements, this watermelon is growing slowly but steadily at 197.8 pounds.

However, the real wonder is inside the towering greenhouse. He opens the door to the sound of fans whirring and I glance to the right to see the monstrous melon also covered by a tarp and perched atop its own scale. This one is larger and has seen the most care of any melon in all of Todd’s garden.

(See the full set-up in a video further down this post.)

It Starts with a Seed

He started the growing season by seeding his watermelons indoors during March.

“Bless my wife. I had taken over the entire dining room table with watermelon seedlings for a few weeks,” he recounts.

Todd transferred the plants to his garden plots at the beginning of May and began his eighth season of cultivating these garden giants. He hand-pollinated the melons to direct them on the correct vine and watched them begin to work their magic.

From that point, he persisted using slightly different methods from years past.

“I’m always experimenting to see what works best.”

While growing on a scale is a new venture, Todd also changed up his routine by incorporating a new soil element into his melon patches this year – Soil3 organic compost.

Mixing in the Soil

Todd’s soil mix is typically composed of leaf mulch and his own native soil, but he added Soil3 to some beds this year and even planted one plot with nothing but the organic humus compost as a growing medium.

“It think drains well. I was impressed with the drainage considering the amount of rain we got,” Todd speaks of his all-Soil3 bed. “When you’re growing these things, you want something that drains. After 3.5 inches of rain, it’s still fluffy.”

He lifts the plastic that separates the vines from the soil, scoops up a handful of Soil3, and lets the loose compost run through his fingers.

The Perfect Formula

Todd monitors his melons according to weather and weight each day and gives us a little insight into what makes giant watermelons succeed beyond the soil.

“Perfect watermelon growing weather is sunny with one-quarter inch of rain a week, no clouds, and 95 degrees,” Todd explains. “It’s actually easier to grow in a drought because you can control the rain.”

He’s always innovating to adjust to the challenges of growing Giant Melons. While it’s his first time growing on a scale and with Soil3, 2018 also marks his first year growing in a greenhouse, and he already has adjustments swirling in his mind.

In a completely separate bed, Todd is experimenting with a patch of African melons to cross with other varieties in years to come. This bed has no soil amendments or extra water, and Todd has no clue when they’ll be ripe – but they seem to be doing well!

With all his experimental techniques, Todd hopes for a competitive melon at the 2018 weigh-offs. He typically chooses a melon to weigh in at Knoxville and Elkin events, while he saves the best melon for the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh at the beginning of October.

In years past he’s seen melons break records and come home with blue ribbons. One giant watermelon even brought him to New York City where he showed of a champion melon on “LIVE with Ryan and Kelly”!

Sun and Ice

His competitive spirit and agricultural hobby have taken him across the country, but Todd’s day job is not to be ignored. Todd is a professional ice carver and owner of his own business, Ice Occasions.

I couldn’t help but ask about his intriguing profession. After receiving a degree in agriculture, Todd was working in the landscaping business when his family decided to invest in some molds for making ice sculptures. Over the years, he ventured into the realm of carving custom sculptures instead of just molding them.

A new passion was born, and he’s traveled to ice carving championships around the world and was named the world champion ice carver in 2017 at his favorite competition in Fairbanks, Alaska.

With all that ice every day, it’s no wonder he loves growing watermelons in the hot summer sun.

Todd lives with his wife and children in Garner, North Carolina, and agreed to grow his watermelons using 10 cubic yards of Soil3 organic compost this year. Thank you, Todd, for inviting us to be part of your 2018 giant growing journey!

Topics: video, vegetable gardening, giant growing with soil3

Photo: Albert Webster

There’s nothing screams summer louder than an enormous watermelon. Here’s my prize effort this year. Look at the pride on my face. Tragic, isn’t it.

My secret?

Add six small mounds of compost to a 3m x 2m raised bed.

  • Sow two or three seeds (this is an ‘Allsweet’) per mound.
  • Sprinkle some goodies (pelletised chook manure, sulphate of potash, rock phospate, mineral dust).
  • When seedlings emerge, thin them so there is one plant per mound.
  • Go on holiday for a month.
  • Return, harvest enormous, sweet and juicy watermelons, and claim credit among friends and neighbours for being an expert gardener.

I can’t tell you how much it weighs because I haven’t got scales large enough. I’d guess more than 20kg. A long way to go before I challenge world record holder Chris Kent, from Tennessee, who grew a 350.5lb (159kg) watermelon last year. But I’ll bet mine tasted nicer.

For more on watermelons, here’s Phil Dudman…

Here’s Justine Clarke…

And for more on oversized fruit and veg, here’s Kenneth Williams.

By: Simon Webster

First published: January 2014

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