Growing Watermelon: How To grow Heirloom Watermelon From Seed
Watermelons come in all sizes, from tiny single-serving types only a few inches across to behemoths weighing upwards of 250 pounds! Flesh color is diverse: in addition to the familiar pink-red, watermelons can be orange-fleshed, yellow, and even white.
History--This crop originated in the Kalahari Desert region of Africa, where its ability to take up water and deposit it into the developing fruits made it an invaluable “living canteen.” First domesticated thousands of years ago in south-central Africa, watermelon was depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings, but may have been grown in India and other Old World locations outside of Africa only since about 1000 AD. The crop reached the Americas more recently, carried here by African slaves. Appreciated by Native Americans, it was quickly traded throughout the Americas. Today, watermelon is cultivated worldwide.
Seed Starting--Watermelon loves heat. In most climates, watermelon can be direct-sown into the garden after frost-season ends and soil is warm. Soil should be rich and well amended with compost or manure. Sow in full sun, preferably where no other melons, squashes or cucumbers have grown for at least three years, to reduce the likelihood of diseases. Sow one-half inch deep and 12 inches apart, in rows 6 feet apart. If the soil temperature is right, sprouts appear in just a few days. In shorter-summer climates, or to get an earlier harvest, seeds may be started indoors, 3-4 weeks prior to setting-out date. Warm conditions yield fast germination; hold at 80 degrees or so. (Use a heating mat if necessary.) Once seedlings appear, they need good light—at least half-day direct sun through a south-facing window or good artificial lighting. Timing is critical—held in pots for too long the seedlings may become root-bound, which slows the plants down.
Growing--Thin if necessary to stand 2-3 feet apart in the row. The vines soon begin to “run” and easily travel 6 feet from the roots as they grow. During this time, control weeds, keep the patch well watered, and watch for watermelon pests.
Pests/Special Considerations--Cucumber beetle is possibly the most common pest. Spray with Spinosad as needed. Watermelon plants also attract squash bugs. Pyganic or other pyrethrum-based insecticide is a good organic control.
Seed Saving--Watermelons won’t cross with any other member of the squash family, but they will cross with other watermelons. Bees carry the pollen up to one-half mile, but adequate purity can be maintained by isolating parent plants by even 1000 feet or so. When your watermelon is fully ripe, the seeds are mature as well, although higher viability is obtained by leaving the fruit on a week or two longer. Simply extract the mature seeds and dry fully before storage.
Jeff hates watermelon. With a passion. Which made this last category in the Baker Creek A-Z project daunting. But lo and behold, in Didi Emmons' 1997 Vegetarian Planet there appears a recipe for gazpacho in which watermelon is used instead of tomato. And you know what? Jeff actually liked this, in fact (he sheepishly admits) more so than the traditional version. Who would have thought? Do give our adaptation a try and be sure to consume it all within a day or two as it tastes best when fresh.
9 cups watermelon flesh, seeded
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
½ cup flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
2 slices dry white bread, crushed into crumbs
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place watermelon, green and red bell peppers, jalapeno, onion, garlic, cucumber, and parsley into a large bowl and puree until smooth using an immersion blender. Mix in the bread crumbs, vinegar, olive oil, salt, cayenne, and black pepper. Chill soup for at least 30 minutes before serving. This will taste best the day you make it.
Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle
Received from a Friend Called Felicity
John Tobias, 1961, New Mexico Quarterly
During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
During that summer--
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was--
Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;
And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.
The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.
Back in the day when people refused to waste anything, a pickle was commonly made from leftover watermelon rinds. This simple example of frugality has almost passed into oblivion, which is too bad, as this sweet/sour and mildly spicy pickle is a great accompaniment to meals eaten on hot summer evenings on a shady porch. Follow this easy recipe adapted from Jeanne Lesem’s 1992 Preserving in Today's Kitchen (ISBN 978-0805048810) and you can – like Felicity – make memories that will last a lifetime.
3 quarts water
1/3 cup sea salt
8 heaping cups watermelon rind, washed and cut into 1x3” strips
4 cups sugar
2 cups wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon (about 10 drops) clove oil
1/8 teaspoon (about 10 drops) cinnamon oil
Dissolve salt in water. Pack prepared watermelon rind into a 1 gallon container and pour brine over the top. Place a weighted plate over the top to keep all of the rind submersed. If there is not enough brine, make more using 1 tablespoon of salt to each 2 cups water. Let stand 24 hours in a cool, dark place.
Drain the rind, rinse in cold water, and drain again. Place in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Bring back to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10-20 minutes until the rind is easily pierced with a toothpick. Remove from heat and drain. Place back into the 1 gallon container.
Make the pickling syrup by dissolving the sugar into the vinegar. Add the clove and cinnamon oil, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour syrup over the drained, cooked rind. Place a weighted plate over the top to keep all of the rind submersed. Let sit 2 days.
Drain the rind pieces, reserving the syrup. Loosely pack the rind into canning jars, top with the syrup to within ¼” of the rim, and seal. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let rest for at least 2 weeks before eating.