Thursday, July 30, 2009

No luck growing watermelons

We planted "Charleston Gray" watermelon plants on April 1st. It's now the end of July, and we haven't produced a single mature fruit. The vines have stretched in all directions, around and over everything in site. The plants are lush and healthy, and constantly covered with tiny yellow flowers. Every so often they send out little tendrils looking for support. When they grab onto one of our other plants a little too vigorously, I cut off the tendril binding the two plants together.

So why so many flowers and no fruit? I suspect one of the problems is that most of those flowers are males, and the few females are not getting pollinated. The flowers are quite small, but today I bent down to study them and noticed a female flower clearly different from the others. Sure enough, just under the flower is a baby watermelon. I picked off two male flowers and used both to pollinate the female.

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to find a small fruit hidden below some leaves. Although no bigger than my son's hand, it was a perfect miniature Charleston Gray watermelon. After the whole family admired our baby, I photographed it and put it back under the leaves where I found it. We had several days of very heavy rain, and when I next checked on the baby watermelon it was shriveled up and black. I'm guessing the rain and blossom-end rot are to blame, but I'm not really sure what happened.

I have read that pollination is often poor for all vegetables when the temperature is too high. We have hit 100 degrees just about every day since early June, so the weather may be in part to blame. The flowers are also quite small, and I rarely see bees or butterflies paying them any attention. They clearly prefer the big squash blossoms. Hand-pollinating has been very successful with our Benning's Green Tint plants, so I'm hoping for similar success with the watermelons.

We've had an unusual summer, with weeks of drought. I had to water the garden almost every day, and we received a notice from the city that our water consumption was unusually high thanks to this lack of rain. The weather finally returned to normal a few weeks ago: high temperatures followed by intense tropical storms followed by more heat. Our eggplants seem to love this combination of heat and heavy rain. They're growing like crazy and covered with flowers. Unfortunately, the mosquitos seem happy too, and I'm back to gardening in long-sleeves and sweat pants to avoid them. I'm not so sure about the watermelons, and hope that we'll produce at least one big melon by the end of the summer. I've been keeping an eye on the little melon I hand-pollinated, and it hasn't grown yet but it is green and healthy. We all hope this one will make it.

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