On a hot summer’s day, a chilled slice of watermelon is right up there with an ice-cold glass of lemonade. Oh-so refreshing!
Watermelons are mostly water, so munching your way through a few slices is a pleasant way to hydrate, but did you know that this sweet, succulent fruit is also soaked with nutrients, antioxidants and amino acids?
You can crunch on it, eat it by the spoonful as sorbet, slurp it in an ice-cold cocktail or even serve it up in a savoury salad or appetiser.
In the garden, watermelon is a bit of a space hog, with sprawling vines that need room, but there are more compact growing varieties you can grow, like ‘Sugar Baby’. It’s an heirloom favourite that’s been around since the 1950s.
The small, round watermelons have darkgreen skin, super-sweet red flesh and fit perfectly into the “icebox”. The vines are more compact, too, so it won’t take over the garden.
‘Crimson Sweet’ is another classic beauty: pretty to look at and sweet to taste, with big light-green melons with dark-green stripes, super-sweet crimsonred flesh and small dark seeds. If you can spare a few metres of garden space, it’s a great one to grow.
Beyond the typical red watermelon, look out for ‘Mountain Sweet Yellow’ watermelons with big, elongated fruit and unusual orange-yellow flesh with a sweet honey flavor that’s to die for in summer. It’s wonderfully productive too, and fruits around 14 weeks from sowing.
‘Sweet Siberian’ is another heirloom type with sugary-tasting, succulent apricot-coloured flesh, which brings drama to a summer fruit salad or cocktail. This Russian variety is tried and true, dating back to the late 1800s, and as a bonus grows well in cooler areas. ‘Cream of Saskatchewan’ is another old heirloom with Russian roots that was introduced to Saskatchewan by Russian immigrants.
The round, striped fruit is grown for its unique champagne coloured flesh and wonderfully sweet flavour. The rind is thin and the skin splits easily, so it’s best devoured fresh from garden to table. Another good choice if you live in a colder zone.
If diﬀerent is what tickles your fancy, then you’ll love the ‘Golden Midget’ watermelon. As the name suggests, the fruit is petite by watermelon standards — weighing just 1.3kg on average — and the rind turns a lovely golden-yellow colour when ripe. The golden skin is a great contrast to the sweet salmon-coloured flesh. It’s a winner with the kids, with big seeds that are easy to spit out.
If you grow the aptly named watermelon ‘Moon and Stars’ it’s the distinctive skin that takes centre stage.
The large, dark-green, oval-shaped fruit and foliage are speckled with small and large golden patches and spots, which resemble the moon and stars. It’s certainly a talking point in the garden and deliciously sweet, with both red and yellow-fleshed varieties available
Common name: Watermelon
Botanical name: Citrullus lanatus
Group: Fruiting vine
Requires: Long, warm summer; lots of sunshine and water
Dislikes: Drying out
Suitable for: Vegie beds, paddocks
Needs: Soil that is rich and friable; regular water
Propagation: Seed, seedling
Watermelons need a long growing season and warm soil for the seeds to grow in, so planting is best done during spring (after the risk of frost has passed) and summer in most areas.
Watermelon seeds can be sown directly, so choose a warm, sunny spot and prepare the area first with plenty of compost and organic matter to nourish the soil and improve drainage.
The vines need plenty of room to grow, so plant seeds on raised mounds 1–2m apart. When vines begin to ramble, I like to pinch out the growing tip to encourage side branching and more compact growth. Keep vines well watered and fed throughout the growing season, but ease oﬀ on the water as the melons start to mature to intensify the sweetness of the fruit.
Most watermelons are ready to pick and eat when the stem of the fruit is dry and brown and the underside of the melon has changed color. When you are munching through the fruit, just be sure to put a few seeds aside from ripe heirloom varieties to plant again next season.