Growing Watermelons

This watermelon sums up why we grow as many of our own foods as our small yard will allow. Damn it was good! Just about the sweetest, most perfect watermelon I’ve ever tasted. Was it worth it from an economical perspective? Probably not since, due to a combination of not so great soil and an improperly installed drip irrigation system, I only got two melons from one vine. But, learning from these twin mistakes, I suspect that next year’s watermelon harvest will be larger, and two other watermelon vines I have going (in a better location) already have a few fruits developing on them. Some things I’ve learned about watermelons:

1. Fighting powdery mildew. Our inland coastal climate, with its hot summer days and cool evenings, is not the best place for melons as we tend to get powdery mildew, a white fungal growth that covers the leaves. However, our watermelon vines seem to be resistant to this problem, unlike the cantaloupes that we’ve tried to grow in the past. Lesson: watermelon is happier in our climate than cantaloupes and cucumbers.

2. Plant early varieties. While producing smaller fruit, early watermelon varieties get you to harvest faster. This means less time for pest and disease problems to develop. While we’ve got a very long season here in Southern California for summer vegetables, with almost no chance of a fall freeze, I’ve begun in the past year to plant early varieties of most vegetables simply because there is less time for bad things to happen.

3. Watermelon is a living mulch. Watermelon, an enormous vine, makes an excellent living mulch, snaking, as it does, amongst our tomatoes and okra. I’ve laid down a layer of straw as mulch, but the watermelon adds a little more to the shade and water retention effort.

4. Irrigating watermelons. Watermelons have large root systems and if you use drip irrigation make sure that the emitters extend in a ring around the roots. Putting an emitter at the stem of the plant, as we did, does not adequately water the roots. We’ll get into the topic of drip irrigation in detail later this year.

5. It ain’t easy picking the world’s largest watermelon. See for yourself via youtube.

For more information on growing watermelon (including the tricky issue of learning when to harvest them) see the University of Illinois Extension’s How to Grow Watermelons.

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  1. this is great, I had pretty much given up on the whole world of melons (water and musk) based on my powdery mildew experience this year. I’ll also look at the “when to pick” link– the whole idea of “stop watering one week before picking” just doesn’t seem like helpful advice.

  2. That does look like a tasty melon.

    I planted butternut squash a few months ago, I know… late in the season. I believe I have the same powdery mildew you’re referring to growing on my squash leaves. Is there anything I can do about this? I am completely new to this gardening stuff so any pointers are much appreciated.

  3. Congratulations! What variety did you grow? The watermelon seedling I bought at the farmer’s market a couple of months ago is resistant to powdery mildew and the leaf miners that have gotten into all of my other melons, but it’s growing too slowly to produce anything before February.

  4. An effective way to lick powder mildrew is a bi-weekly spray of baking soda solution. About 1 heaping tablespoon into a gallon of water and then spray it on your squash, cukes, and melons. Always worked really well for me.

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  5. i *think* i’m growing sugar babies. the first one we harvested was woefully underdone and now we’re terrified to harvest another one! any tips on knowing when (other than keeping track of flowering – we’re way past that point now).

  6. 2 watermelons is actually great, since the average is 2-3 per vine, even for commercial growers. I’m in Tucson and we grew a Tohono O’odham variety (seeds bought from Native Seeds/SEARCH) and only got one! But, she is a beaut! I, too, was shocked when my watermelon vine only produced one, but then after learning the average is 2-3, I thought, “Yea, I’m lucky!” My watermelon plant “aborted” (agricultural term!) another watermelon that was developing, to focus all its energy on this one.

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