Watermelon is scientifically known as citrullus lanatus and it’s mainly cultivated for its delicious fruit. Despite the popular belief that watermelon is just sugar and water, watermelon is actually a nutrient dense food. This classic summertime fruit has a lot more to offer than sweet taste. It can help prevent many diseases including cancer, heart diseases and kidney disorders. There are more than 1000 different varieties of watermelon and it’s one of the only foods to be classified as both a fruit and a vegetable.
We all love juicy watermelon especially in the summertime. They are originally from Africa and need warm temperatures to grow in your garden. Even though these plants need warmer climates to grow, gardeners in colder climates also can successfully grow short season varieties of watermelon vines indoors. Gardeners in warmer climates can directly sow seeds outdoors when the temperature is at least more than 21 C. If you live in a cooler zone, it’s always good to start seeds indoors before transplanting them outside to avoid poor seed germination.
Planting and Caring for Watermelon Vines
Watermelons are heavy feeders and like loamy well drained soil. So you must amend soil with good quality compost before planting and don’t forget to adjust soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5 to get the optimum results. Growing the vines in raised rows known as hills ensures good drainage and will hold the sun’s heat longer. Space between vines should be about two feet apart in a five foot wide hill.
Watering is very important for watermelons throughout the vines’ lifespan. These vines need moist soil, but not waterlogged. So it is good to use some sort of tree bark mulch to keep the soil moist for a longer period of time. If you choose to fertilize your watermelon vines, use a balanced N,P,K fertilizer during all stages of the vines’ life cycle. To get more results, use a fertilizer that delivers more nitrogen than phosphorus and potassium until the flowering begins. Thereafter use a fertilizer with more phosphorus and potassium. Always remember to follow the instructions in the fertilizer packs because high concentrations might kill the vines.
Pruning is not necessary, but you may prune the vines according to your choice if you wish to do so. Watermelon vines produce male and female flowers separately. More often male flowers bloom earlier and will fall off. Only the female flowers which have a swollen bulb at the base will stay and produce fruit. Blossoms need to be pollinated to set fruit. So you need natural pollinators like bees here. Therefore be careful not to use anything which will keep the bees away from the vines. After all as the fruit ripening, gently lift and place cardboard or straw between the fruit and soil to prevent rotting.
Harvesting and Storing Watermelons
Harvesting time is very important for watermelons because they don’t sweeten after they are picked. Watermelons usually ripen over two weeks of time. So you need to keep your eye on them. Maturity is indicated when the fruit gives off a hollow sound when tapped with knuckles. Once harvested they can be easily stored uncut about a week. If cut, watermelons can only last about three days in the refrigerator.
Watermelons are mostly water about 90 percent but packed with essential nutrients. They are easy to grow and most varieties produce fruit within 3-4 months. Select short season varieties if your growing season is less than 3 months. Watermelon plants have deep roots, so it’s not necessary to water the plants every day. But it’s good to keep the soil moist during the growing season. Watermelon flowers need to be pollinated to produce fruit. Therefore, you need to attract natural insect pollinators such as bees to your garden in the flowering season. Except for that, applying natural fertilizers such as leaf mold, compost and manure can improve the fruit harvest of watermelon plants. After picking a watermelon, chill it before serving for best flavor.
Fast Facts on Watermelon
- More than 90% of a watermelon is water.
- China is the largest watermelon producer in the world.
- One cup of diced Watermelon (152 grams) contains 43 calories, zero grams of fat, 1 gram of fiber and 11 grams of carbohydrate including 9 grams of sugar.
- Watermelon contains vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium.
- They are good for heart health and has anti inflammatory properties.
- Watermelons are packed with antioxidants which can help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer.
- Over 1200 varieties of watermelon are grown worldwide.
- Watermelon weight varies from 1 to 2 kg to 20 kg or more. The number of fruits per vine varies from 2 to 15.
- Because watermelons are native to Africa, they need hot, sunny conditions to thrive. Some varieties need up to 130 warm days to ripen. Most watermelons mature in 85 to 100 days.
- Watermelons usually have red flesh, but some watermelons have white, yellow, orange or even green flesh.