Growing Watermelons in Your New England Garden is Easy and Fun For All Ages
Ask people about growing watermelons in New England and they'll say its not possible because its too cold up here. NOT TRUE! We've started our watermelons from seed every May and put plants out around Memorial Day every year for the past 5 years - the results, a garden full of tasty watermelons!
Picking the Right Variety of Watermelon is Key to Success
Those huge 20-30 pound watermelons you buy in the grocery stores in the summer will not have enough time to mature on the vine up here in New England, so its important to buy the smaller varieties, the so-called "personal watermelons" that are all the rage in the stores these days. There are plenty of varieties out there, from classic red to orange to yellow, you pick one or pick them all!
We like to start our seeds in early May in the house in small pots to give the plants a headstart before going outside around Memorial Day
They usually sprout within 5 days and will grow to be 2-4 inches tall in a short amount of time. Keep in mind that when you go to transplant them into the garden, they DO NOT like their roots disturbed, so keep as much of soil around the plant from the small pot as possible. It will help them from going into shock (plants will go limp and look like they need water really bad!) and will start them growing faster. Each plant will produce one main runner (vine), that will run along the ground and probably end up around 15 feet in length. In addition, side shoots will come out of the main stem and run their own vines along the ground. The moral of the story- give each plant (or mound of 3-4 plants) a good 5 feet in every direction to spread out and grow in full sun.
Water Your Watermelons Deeply and Thoroughly Once a Week
People think watermelons must need a lot of water, right? Not really. They are actually a desert-type plant that grows a long root, deep into the soil so it can survive dry periods better than most vegetables. When you do water, make sure you do so deeply to ensure the water reaches deep into the soil. You will be rewarded with healthy plants, each with 2-5 watermelons on the vine.
How Do I Know When My Watermelon is Ripe?
That's a great question for which we don't have a good answer. Traditional wisdom says that tapping/thumping the watermelon will tell you- if its a dull thud, its ripe. The other traditional way to tell is when the stem that connects the watermelon to the vine starts to dry out, its time to pick the watermelon. We've had limited success with both, but here's a third way which has always delivered the watermelons at their peak of ripeness (after you pick watermelons, they won't ripen any further so its important to pick them when they are fully ripe). Carefully roll over your watermelon to see the side that has been sitting on the soil. If its yellow, its time to pick- if its still white, leave it on the vine.
Watermelons don't store very well past a couple of weeks. We've found that keeping them in a cool place (50-70 degrees) unrefrigerated works fine for a short time so its best to share your harvest with friends and family!