All News & Blogs
Hot, dry summer brings one reward: sweeter watermelons
Like a proud papa, Donnie Johnston holds the 40-pound Carolina Cross watermelon he grew in his garden this year.
Visit the Photo Place
LET'S TALK about
I just about lived off watermelon in August. Like tomatoes, I feast off them from the time they come in until they go out.
This year's crop produced the tastiest melons in memory. The hot, dry spell in early July hit just as the melons were developing and everything turned to sugar.
My Charleston Gray melons did not do as well as some years--they did not grow especially large--but the Crimson Sweet plants produced plenty of sweet, luscious watermelons that would just about melt in your mouth.
If you have never eaten a homegrown melon, you have missed a real treat. Nothing compares to a watermelon that has been left on the vine to fully ripen. Store-bought melons pale in comparison.
Not many home gardeners grow watermelons, however. For some reason, they believe that you must live as far south as South Carolina to be able to cultivate this crop. They also think that you must have sandy soil to make watermelons grow.
Watermelons do extremely well in all parts of Virginia. And although they do love sandy soil, given the proper nutrients, this crop will thrive in even the reddest of clay.
The key is fertilizer. When I plant watermelons, I dig a hole about 18 inches in diameter and about eight inches deep. I take some manure that is broken down and mix it with dirt in the hole until it rises about six inches above ground level.
Then, about the fourth week in April, I transplant my melons, which I start in my basement in early March.
From the time the plants become established, watermelons take about 80 to 90 days to mature and ripen.
So how do you tell when a watermelon is ripe? I get that question all the time.
Some people thump them and when they hear a flat sound they assume the melon is ready. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work. Larger melons may produce that dull "thud" even though they're not ripe. Smaller melons may "ping" despite the fact that they are dead ripe.
My grandmother taught me a trick to determine a watermelon's ripeness and it seldom fails.