Monday, August 10, 2009

Giving the watermelons a helping hand

I found two female watermelon blossoms on our "Charleston Gray" plants right around the same time. I hand-pollinated both, and didn't think about them again for a few weeks. At first, I couldn't remember exactly where the female blossoms had been. I looked along the vine, and there was a BIG baby watermelon. I picked it up and it was incredibly dense, much heavier than I expected something that size to be. I soon found a second watermelon nearby, and it was even bigger.

Since then, I've discovered a third melon in the garden, and all three watermelons have grown incredibly fast. They're still growing rapidly, so the question is when to harvest for maximum flavor. Determining when a watermelon is ripe sounds challenging. Some books suggest the melon is ready to pick when the small tendril nearby turns brown and dry. Others suggest listening for a hollow sound when you thump the watermelon. I don't see any little tendrils near my watermelons, and I don't trust my sense of acoustics enough to accurately assess the sound of my melons. I'm going with the third approach, which is to watch the underside of the melon. When the bottoms change to a warm, creamy yellow, the melon is ready to harvest.

Right now, all three melons are bright white underneath. I try not to disturb them too often to peek at the bottoms, so I'm also gauging their size to determine maturity. Charleston Grays should reach between 28 and 35 pounds. Our biggest melon is close to 15 pounds right now, and the smaller two are probably around 10 pounds each. You wouldn't predict those weights from looking at the melons -- they are much heavier than their size suggests. This is our first experience growing watermelons, but they must lose that density as the melons approach maturity. I'm tempted to take our bathroom scale out into the garden to get an exact weight -- they are growing so fast, it would be interesting to take a daily reading -- but I doubt the melons will enjoy being moved onto a scale every day.

Melons should not be watered too much as they approach maturity or the flavor will diminish. We've had a few good rains this past week, so I'm not watering the plants at all. The leaves look green and healthy, and the vines are continuing to grow and sprawl through the garden. There are tiny new flowers every day, although so far I haven't discovered any new female blooms. Now that I know hand-pollination works well, I try to look every day so I won't miss an opportunity to help create another baby watermelon. I'm already planning dinner of watermelon salad with feta and mint, with a watermelon agua fresca to drink. The way the melons are growing, it should be any day now.

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