Watermelon Wisdom (Just Kidding)

The watermelon patch on 7-20-20.

Hello everyone! I hope this post finds you all well. The past few weeks have been very busy and I finally finished picking the sweet corn a few days ago. I only had time to pick a 5-gallon bucket or so almost every night. I started this post on July 15 and just now had time to finish it. Sometimes time flies by and sometimes it just seems to drag. When it comes to watermelons the anticipation will drive you completely insane. I have taken 48 photos of the watermelons since June 7 which kept getting out of date for a post.

SO, today is the day I finish… Hmmm… I think I said that to myself several days in a row starting with last Sunday.

Gardening has its ups and downs and this year has been no exception between standing the sweet corn back up several times and the armyworms on the tomatoes. As always you deal with these problems and move forward. You learn that once you have picked the sweet corn you don’t have to worry about the wind anymore. You learn that the armyworm problem only lasts so long then their time has passed. The kale, well, it to had its pests and I think there were more than just what I knew about. The snap peas turned out to be snow peas which was a disappointment. I did get more and I planted about half of the seeds on August 1. The lady from the garden center assured me that the ones she planted turned out fine so I took her word for it (just like I expected snap peas in the first place). The tomatoes have done great and I had plenty to eat and give away. The sweet corn fooled me despite several issues and I was surprised to add 380 ears to the freezer. More than ever before and without help shucking it. It will last until the next harvest if I can stop eating 2-3 every night for dinner.

THEN, THERE ARE THE WATERMELONS just taking their sweet time enjoying life at a snails pace as if nothing else is going on in the world around them… 

Before I get too deep into this post I think I better be completely honest with you. Although my grandpa was one of the local watermelon kings in this area until his death at 83 in 1981, this is the first year for me. I did plant a few seeds in an area behind the chicken house in 2017 but that doesn’t count. I planted them in an open area and the deer or something ate some of the plants and they just fizzled out. During my childhood, I was around a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables that my grandparents and parents grew. Eating juicy, sweet, ripe watermelon with my grandpa was always a special treat. He got a lot of joy taking his vegetables to the Missouri State Fair and Calhoun Colt Show and won a lot of blue ribbons. Watermelons were one of his specialties and he saved seed from the best of many varieties every year. One year someone gave him seeds from a yellow-fleshed watermelon which he grew the following year. He didn’t like the flavor so he didn’t save any of their seed. The next year he wasn’t too happy to find out they had crossed with some of his prize melons and he still had several with yellow flesh…

Every year I get some pretty good watermelons but sometimes they are just so-so. I have always longed to relive those days as a kid with a mouth-watering, juicy, sweet watermelon. I mean, one that is just so AMAZING and dripping with juice, so sweet and flavorful you will remember it for a lifetime. So, I decided I was going to plant watermelons in 2020…

My grandpa planted several varieties every year. I remember Kleckley’s Sweet, Crimson Sweet, Charleston Gray, Black Diamond, Dixie Queen, some variety of Rattlesnake, and probably others I can’t remember. One of our favorites was always Black Diamond. Finding a Black Diamond these days is like pulling hen’s teeth so I decided that is what I would plant… Black Diamond…

WHEN TO PLANT WATERMELONS?

Watermelon ‘Black Diamond’ on June 7.

Some of the old-timers used to say to plant watermelons on the first day of May in your shirttail. Hmmm… What does “in your shirttail” mean anyway? I guess it means to get out of bed bright and early on May 1 and plant watermelons before you even have your first cup of coffee. You haven’t slept all night because you are thinking about getting up early to plant the watermelons. You get up, put your pants and shirt on, put on your boots, and go outside without tucking in your shirt. You may even go out in your boxer shorts but you have to put on a shirt or you aren’t following the rules.

Some of the “rules” say to plant 5 seeds per hill and thin to three plants after they come up, but you know how I don’t like to thin. I planted five seeds in five hills and if they all came up they were allowed to remain. There are a lot of ideas about planting melons and one site said to make hills five feet in diameter. Hmmm… Many people just plant them in rows “so many” feet apart and don’t bother with hilling. You can even buy plants from garden centers (and online) and transplant them. I opted to buy 25 seeds from a seller on Etsy and I planted them all. Ummm, most of them came up.

 

Watermelon ‘Black Diamond’ on 6-20-20.

COMPROMISING WITH BLACK DIAMOND FOR SPACE…

I knew from the start there may be an issue with space because Black Diamond is not a space-saving watermelon. One thing I want you to remember, so you can remind me later in the comments, is that Black Diamond watermelons take around 90 days (3 months) to ripen (after germination). They can grow to 50 pounds or more in optimum conditions and 75-80 pounds is not uncommon… I will talk about this more later on.

My garden, or the garden, is roughly around 3,000-3,500 square feet. I am not sure exactly. Anyway, there is roughly 55′ from one end of the rows to the other and I would say dad made the garden fairly square. That doesn’t count the distance around the rows to motivate the tiller and walk. In the beginning, I planned on four double rows of sweet corn divided in half for ‘Incredible’ and half ‘Peaches and Cream’. The row of tomatoes goes on the other side. I needed space for the row of kale and snap peas (which turned out to be snow peas). Then I had the ‘Jing Orange’ Okra to plant. I found the old ‘Broad Windsor’ Fava Beans which shared the row with the okra. SO, from the sweet corn to the row of fava beans and okra left roughly 16 feet for the watermelon vines to spread. SO, made five hills down the center of that 16′, allowing 10′ feet on each end plus walking space…

Then, a friend had issues with rabbits and deer eating his green beans, so I volunteered to pant a row of green beans. That left about 12′ for the watermelons… At first that seemed OK because the watermelons grew very slowly. Then, as the weather became warmer, they took off. I begin to wonder about my sanity. I figured when the watermelon vines got close to the other rows I could just turn them or MAYBE cut the vines and I could keep them from sprawling over the entire garden. Then I got to wondering about pruning…

What a cutie!

 

A side branch on 7-26-20.

HMMM… PRUNING WATERMELON VINES… 

I always remembered my grandpa telling me not to step on the watermelon vines because it would kill them. But I wondered… Could I prune them like tomatoes? So, I got online and read a little about it and watched several videos on YouTube. Normally, apparently, you start out pruning watermelons from the beginning, leaving a single vine and cut off all the side branches. Once one of the flowers on the vine produces fruit, you cut off the vine so it won’t grow past that point. That puts all the plant’s energy into producing that single watermelon. You can leave two if there is another one by the time you get around to it. Hmmm… OK, so I screwed up in the beginning by not watching the videos in the first place.

Pruning 1-2″ past the watermelon.

SO NOW WHAT?

By the time I started pruning my watermelon vines they had almost reached the rows on both sides. LUCKILY, the main vines had just started flowering when I began pruning and I could get somewhat inside the patch to remove the side branches. Now, you have to realize only 1 out of 7 flowers will be female and produce a melon. This kind of complicates things and I started looking at the flowers to see if there was a difference between male and female flowers.

Watermelon ‘Black Diamond’ flower…

They all looked the same to me, unlike zucchini, where you can tell fairly soon which is which. I was pruning watermelon vines every night as long as I could. It worked very well, actually, and it seemed like I was able to train the main vines not to go into the rows of beans and okra. Once the side branches started flowering I had to hurry to get them cut off so I wouldn’t see a melon. There were already several melons on many of the main vines but it also seemed like there were A LOT with no melons at all. I thought maybe I should remove all the vines with no melons but by that time that would have been ridiculous…

Vines produce side branches which produce side branches which produce side branches… Well, that could be a bit of an exaggeration but who really knows. Once the highway system of branches gets out of control you can’t dive in and start snipping.

As time went by, I could tell the newer side branches were flowering much sooner than the older vines started. That made it harder because if I saw a melon on a side branch I could not remove the whole thing. I just cut it off after the melon… Despie knowing those little melons may not make it to get ripe because of the “F” date sometime in October. This is a learning experience and it allows me to know just how long it takes to make a watermelon…

 

Watermelon vines growing up to he green beans on July 26, 2020.

After a week or so of pruning, I could no longer get inside the patch. The vines were growing so thick and there were even side branches sticking up everywhere in the center of the patch. I started concentrating on the perimeter of the patch and forgot about the middle. When I wanted to cut a vine, I would kind of pull it up to see where it was coming from and cut it off as far up as I could. Sometimes I was able to step inside the patch a little to get even farther.

The next thing I knew I had the issue with the armyworms on the tomatoes. That took time away from the watermelons for a few days until I got them under control. THEN, I started having to pick corn every evening. The watermelon vines started getting out of line BUT, the watermelons were getting bigger…

Baby frog…

As I work in the watermelons I see baby frog and toads. The leaves provide a lot of shade and even though it hadn’t rained for a while the soil under the leaves was still fairly damp. It was strange having worms on the tomatoes, kale having their pests, Asparagus Beetles on the asparagus, Corn Earworms and other bugs on the sweet corn but no critter issues with the watermelon vines…

SO, HOW DO YOU TELL WHEN A BLACK DIAMOND IS READY TO PICK?

WELL, it is kind of like this… They say patience is a virtue but sometimes it is a pain in the neck. Over the years I have heard many ways to tell when a watermelon is ripe. Some people thump on it and listen for a certain sound. I read once you can use a straw placed a certain way on the melon and if it rotates lengthwise (I think) it is ripe. Some say the belly has to be white or yellow. The advice I am getting online now is that the tendril opposite the stem the melon is fastened to has to be completely brown. At that point, the melon is supposedly as ripe as it will ever get.

Dried tendril on a ‘Black Diamond’ Watermelon on July 26… About 56 days after emergence and at least 34 days to maturity…

But, for Black Diamonds, it isn’t quite so easy…

1) TENDRIL TEST: The tendril being COMPLETELY BROWN may only indicate it is beginning to ripen.

 

The belly is supposed to be white or yellow…

2) BELLY COLOR: Yes, the belly has to be yellow or white. If not, it isn’t ready. This melon weighed probably around 25 pounds.

 

The scratch test…

3) THE SCRATCH TEST:  Watermelon rinds get harder as the melons mature. If you can scratch the surface easily, it isn’t ready.

ONE OF LIFE’S EMBARASSING MOMENTS…

WELL, I suppose everyone has a few of “those moments” when the waiting for something is over. Not that it should be over, but we get too anxious and we just can’t wait any longer. Watching those watermelons getting bigger and checking their tendrils, their bellies, and doing the scratch thing is exhausting for the mind. I had completely ignored the fact that they were planted around the last part of May…

Hmmm… On July 31…

I debated and debated. Waking up in the middle of the night thinking about that watermelon… The big one that isn’t ready and the other one whose tendrils are dried and has a white belly. So, on July 31, curiosity, anxiety, wanting a ripe melon got the best of me…

Scratch test… PASSED!

I did the scratch test and it passed. OK, so not really. I had trimmed my fingernails the night before and I didn’t scratch it all that hard because I really wanted it to pass the test. Out of camera view, I scratched it harder and it didn’t pass. Hmmm… What good is hiding the truth if you are going to admit to a lie?

 

Belly test… PASSED!

Before I cut the stem I checked the belly. If the belly was still been green I would have left it alone…

I took it to the house and washed it off. Then I looked for my scale. You know, I couldn’t find it anywhere. GEEZ! I messaged a friend and asked if she had a scale I could borrow. She asked what i needed I for and I told her it was a secret. She said I could borrow it so I went to get it and gave her some tomatoes… It weighed 23 pounds…

 

NOT FUNNY!!!

Well, I suppose I completely lost my senses. I completely forgot about the most important rule…

4) DAYS TO MATURITY…

This one is the hardest to remember but probably the most important… Instead of #4, it should be #1 (maybe it is #1, but im my mind it wasn’t). Even if your melon passes everything else but hasn’t gotten to the right number of days, you may very well be disappointed if you cut it open. There is a fifth rule but I forgot what it was. 🙂 Try to remember when your watermelons started coming up and count from there if you planted the seed in the ground. If you are transplanting them, you start from that date instead of when they started coming up. So, for me, My watermelons should start ripening around the first of September…

OH YEAH! #5… HARDNESS OR ROUGHNESS…

One of the biggest on August 4…

This watermelon weighs AT LEAST 40 pounds, or at least I think so. It was so big I had to move it around because the vines were beginning to cut into it. I moved it sideways to give it more room… Here it is on August 4 with September 1 being 90 days to maturity. I didn’t look at its belly but I put my hand under it to check the firmness. As you can see on the left of the photo, the tendril is NOT brown… The skin is getting rougher. Once I pick the first ripe melon successfully, I will have a better idea when the rest will be ripe. Practice makes perfect and PATIENCE is a virtue… HMMM…

There are MANY watermelons in the patch, one even larger than the one in the above photo. It’s hard to tell because Black Diamonds are noted for producing LOTS of big leaves and I can’t see what is in the middle of the patch. Sometimes I get a glimpse of one I hadn’t noticed before through the leaves.

Watermelon patch on August 4, 2020.

The patch looks pretty good in my opinion. It seems well mannered and I really didn’t have that much trouble getting the vines to stay confined to the area I needed them to be in. If I had have let them ramble, they would probably just about filled the garden by now.

I can hardly believe I finished this post… Now maybe I will do one about the sweet corn. Maybe I will just read your posts for a while…

Right now I am fighting a cold or something. Last week was strangely cool and I have been traveling on a lot of dusty back roads and talking with quite a few different people. Last Thursday my sinus started plugging up and I started feeling a cold coming on. I amped up the Vitamin C and Elderberry and also started taking Alka-Seltzer Plus. It hasn’t really helped that much… No headaches, no fever or anything just sinus congestion. I hate using the nasal spray but I have to breathe somehow.

Until next time, be safe and stay positive. Stay well and be thankful of your blessings.

15 comments on “Watermelon Wisdom (Just Kidding)

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Okay . . . You can not freeze watermelon. You can not can them either. What on Earth do you intend to do with SO many?!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says:

    Fabulous insight into watermelons, I’m sure your Grandad would be proud. Hopefully all will be well for now. I admit I’m one to dig up the odd seed to see how it is doing! Do watermelons keep awhile? I’m just imagining you having watermelons for breakfast lunch and dinner for three weeks in September…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello there! I hope to have watermelon at least once a day when they start ripening. They may keep a week or so in a cool place but I am not really sure. I will share what I can’t eat. Take care and thanks for the comment!

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  3. Sure hope the cold goes away soon. That’s a lot of watermelons! I’m assuming you know lots of people who want watermelon. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bittster says:

    That looks like a great watermelon patch, so healthy and lush with barely a weed! I think you’ll be reliving some good memories in just a few weeks. Stay cool!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Frank! Did you see a weed? 🙂 The grass has grown in the upper end where the vines were a little slow to spread so I have to get that cleaned up. Once the vines started getting with it they shaded out the grass and weeds. Some Foxtail has managed to peek through here and there though but I can’t get to it. I am very glad Black Diamonds produce a lot of large leaves. Like you said, the patch looks healthy and lush. It isn’t because of my effort, it is just the way they turned out. HOPEFULLY, very soon I will post about the first ripe melon. I hope all is well with you and yours. Take care and thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. rmkinder says:

    This is a wonderful post. It will be my reference for growing watermelons. I was so tickled to read that it was your first year for growing watermelons–other than when the deer ate your plants. I’ve tried but my land wasn’t right–not good drainage, and I didn’t know about nutrients. I didn’t know anything. I just love watermelons. My mother told me that when she was a girl and the family lived in Sherman, Missouri, they planted watermelons on the side of a hill. They grew profusely and beautifully. I don’t have a hillside and too many pets. Your information is so thorough, and clear,and good, and your style is easy and pleasing. I’ll use your knowledge as a guide and next year I’ll plant watermelons again. I was also tickled by the hybrid watermelon story. I can just imagine trying to get rid of the vestige of a crossing. Funny. You take care and know that to someone who isn’t a gardener of any sort, you are a teacher and a wonder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Rose Marie! I am glad you enjoyed the post. Soil type is definitely important and planting in hills helps with drainage. When it is watermelon season and I have one, I usually cut up a slice into chunks and fill a huge bowl or two. The season doesn’t last long and only once a year so you have to eat your fill. 🙂 I don’t remember if it took grandpa more than one season to get the yellowness out of his melons but I do remember he was not happy when they crossed. Now that I know about plant genetics, surely his crossed because they were open-pollinated varieties. Of course, many were pure and that is what he saved his seeds from. Makes me wonder though. I hope you can plant watermelons next year and my future writing about my experience will help you even more. I have a lot to learn, so we will learn together. Take care and thanks for the wonderful comment.

      Like

  6. Debbie says:

    The watermelon patch is AWESOME! Sounds like you have watermelon exhaustion syndrome – that was a great post to read you know, especially that Grandpa was a watermelon king! and i sooo wish i could grow just one watermelon – I absolutely love watermelon. Also they appear to have really lovely leaves too. Great to hear from you and hope you feel better soon. Our weather here has been crazy for a week i feel like i am living and working in the tropics. Most days are at least 33 and i spend every morning and evening watering – we are all willing slaves to our gardens in summer 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Debbie! Watermelon is definitely on the top of my list. They aren’t hard to grow and you can try a space-saving variety if you have limited space (and time). You can build a trellis for them to climb on but I am not sure exactly how that works. There are a lot of very interesting videos on YouTube and people grow them in a variety of ways. What a journey we can get ourselves in. 🙂 We had rain for a few days but now the temps are back up again. We had a lot of high humidity and just so muggy you couldn’t hardly breathe. The okra and watermelons love the heat and so do the Aroids. My flower beds look like a disaster and the yard needs to be mowed. GEEZ! I keep forgetting about the Yew along the front of the house! I am behind with my work for a couple of other people as well. I had to pay someone to mow my yard last time because I didn’t have time and might have to do it again… Well, her mower does a much better job than mine but I really need to do it myself. Last time she mowed my yard her mower shot craps afterward and she had to get a trailer to haul it home. She had to buy a new one and I think she is itching to show it off. 🙂 I am feeling much better now, thanks. I hope you are doing well, too. Take care and thanks for the comment!

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  7. Impressive garden. I do love watermelon, but I can’t imagine I’d feel the same if I had to eat it every day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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