2016-06-02 / From The Garden

The Sweet Taste of Summer

By Cynthia Gibson

“To taste a watermelon is to know what the angels eat.” –Mark Twain

Angels have a varied menu; many of their desserts involve cake or evoke the lightness of clouds. But watermelon is not a new item on their list. The fruit is centuries old and derives from a bitter melon, definitely not an angelic favorite .

Watermelon seeds were in Libya 5,000 years ago and were found in King Tut’s tomb 4,000 years ago. The seeds eventually found their way around the world. When transporting the melons themselves proved difficult, you could handily put a few seeds in your pocket.

Growing watermelons is easy and interesting. Small midget varieties can be grown in large terra cotta or plastic pots, and can be trained to grow up a trellis; watermelons grow on vines that love to climb, twist, and turn.

The larger the melon, the bigger the space needed for growing. Some of the largest, truly mighty melons are Carolina Cross, Black Diamond, and Georgia Rattlesnake. The top five seeds for growing watermelons in your backyard are Sugar Bush, Orange Sweet, Congo, Crimson Sweet, and Sugar Baby.

And how is it that seedless watermelons are produced?

According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, “A seedless watermelon is a sterile hybrid which is created by crossing male pollen for a watermelon, containing 22 chromosomes per cell, with a female watermelon flower with 44 chromosomes per cell. When this seeded fruit matures, the small, white seed coats inside contain 33 chromosomes, rendering it sterile and incapable of producing seeds. This is similar to the mule, produced by naturally crossing a horse with a donkey. This process does not involve genetic modification.”

Seedless watermelon varieties to look for are Red Ruby, Queen of Hearts, Millionaire, Nova, and the yellow-fleshed Amarillo.

Watermelons are best grown in mounds of soil with three seeds to the hill. Add fertilizer, good compost, or aged manure to the soil, mound it three inches over the melon seeds, and water. Once they germinate, the plants will grow rapidly into long vines. Feed at least once a month with a liquid fertilizer; Miracle Gro works just fine.

In three-and-a-half to four months, your melons will be ready to pick and enjoy.

How to Choose the Ripest Watermelon

Want to make sure your watermelon is ready to eat? Here are three pro tips for choosing the right one at the grocery store or market.

Put your ear close to the watermelon and knock. It should make a hollow sound, just like you’re knocking on a wooden door.

Roll the watermelon over and look for a yellow spot on its bottom. That’s where it sat on the ground. If it’s white or green, then it was picked too soon. This is an important one, as watermelons don’t ripen off the vine.

Look for tiny pinholes or scratch marks which might be in a cluster, as that indicates bees have been drinking some of the sweet juice. Bees always find the sweetest fruit and flowers.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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