I have to confess, I am the type of person that will cut a watermelon in half and dig in with a spoon. The sweet crisp center is so addictive I will continue to gouge out one spoon full after another. The aim is to eat up to the first round of seeds – flush them out and continue to eat to the edge. The feeling of gorging oneself with watermelon is immediate deep cell rehydration and a rush of energy.
Watermelon comes in all shapes and sizes. The experienced will knock the skin with a forefinger and knowingly hear the hollow thud of ripeness. Others look for a yellowing of the skin where it touches the soil. The much more scientific way is to check the “rope” of the melon. This is a little tendril attached to the vine that is opposite the stem on which the water melon is attached. If this is dry and the actual stem of the watermelon has evidence of corking – little brown patches – then the melon is ripe. Some prefer to take a sharp knife and cut a small wedge into the melon. If the small plug is ripe, harvesting can commence. If it is not ripe then it can be replaced and the melon will heal over and continue its ripening process.
Growing watermelons requires a little preparation of a well fertilized mound. There is no need to fertilize the whole watermelon patch. The mound should be at least 20cm high and half a metre round. Make sure that there is well-rotted animal manure and enough organic matter in the mound to hold an even moisture level. Plant up to three seeds per mound and protect these seeds from mice by placing a plastic bottle, bag or net over where the germinating seed will be. This also helps protect the melon from being attacked by the cucumber beetle.
Approximately three weeks after germination, it will be time to remove the temporary tents and let the watermelon start to run. This is the last chance to make sure there are no weeds where the watermelon is to grow. Competition from weeds will block the sun from feeding the watermelons. The aim is to grow a vigorous vine that will cover the ground with large leaves. The energy from the sun will pump the fruit with a higher brix level. The older varieties of melons had brix readings of 9. Newer hybrids have readings close to 14.
Growing watermelons in Vanuatu gives us the opportunity to try varieties that have long seasons. The smaller icebox types will mature in 85 days but the larger varieties will take anything up to 100 days. The biggest watermelons found in the Port Vila market weigh around 15kg. The biggest melon on record was grown in the United States of America and weighed 160kg. The best time to grow melons is when there is a long dry season; very little fungicidal spray is required if there is no rain. Feeding the plant with liquid fish fertilizer or liquid blood and bone will also deter the insects that are prone to attack the plant during its early stages.
Growing watermelon out of season is a challenge. It requires many more inputs to secure a crop. Whilst visitors may want to eat water melon all year around, this would require growing the melons under cover to protect them from heavy rain. More sprays would also be needed to keep the mould and mildews away. Instead, it may be easier to convert visitors to eat pineapple and mango; there is a sweet juicy fruit alternative for every season!
Cornelia Wyllie is the caretaker of Rainbow botanic gardens, entrepreneur and founder of Vanuatu Direct / Fine Foods processing. She is passionate about the nutraceutical values of foods and believes that food is our medicine. Flowers and food are found at discerning stores in Port Vila with distributors overseas. Buying direct is possible and full support and certification for Biosecurity is available on selected lines if these items are sent or taken overseas. Contact [email protected]