One of the highlights of summer is homegrown watermelon
Watermelons are easy to grow but require space; because each plant only produces two fruit, three or four plants are needed for a good supply. It’s not that watermelons are tardy producers, it’s just that each melon weighs 10-12 kg, so it takes a lot of plant energy to produce. For the home gardener with a small veggie garden, sweet melon hybrids like ‘Divine’, or a baby watermelon like ‘Sugar Baby’, are better options because their trailing growth can be tied onto a trellis and the lighter fruit supported in homemade ‘hammocks’.
Watermelons and melons are best grown in full sun, in garden beds with a good depth of soil to accommodate their extensive root system. Enrich the soil with plenty of well-rotted kraal manure or compost, and make sure that it drains well. Sow seed in situ or in seed trays, but transplant when 2-3 weeks old, and no later. A raised planting station will ensure good drainage. Space plants well apart to ensure good air circulation, although varieties like ‘All Sweet’ are more resistant to powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt.
Water once a week and increase watering when the plant starts owering. Bees are required to pollinate the male and female owers, so steer clear of any harmful
insecticides. Feed with a general fertiliser once a month, but not too close to the roots or it will burn them.
Large watermelons reach maturity within 85-90 days, ‘Sugar Baby’ within 75-85 days, and sweet melons within 70-80 days. A large watermelon is ripe if it feels a little bumpy when you stroke it. When sweet melons are ripe, a small crack appears at the point where the fruit attaches to the vine. This is called a half-slip and indicates that the vine is ready to release the fruit.
Melons (spanspek) and watermelons are thought to have originated in Africa, possibly in the Kalahari Desert where David Livingstone found wild watermelons. Watermelons are not only mentioned in the Bible, but are also depicted in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and watermelon seed was found in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen. Spanspek is a unique South African word for sweet melon and is attributed to Lady Smith, wife of Sir Harry Smith, who was
of Spanish descent and preferred sweet melon for breakfast, rather than bacon, causing the Afrikaans chefs to refer to her melon as ‘Spaanse spek’.