Carol Stein grows it
Watermelons are beloved
summer treats, and spring is the time to plant them. In the Piedmont and
westward, you should plant watermelon seeds from April 15 to June 1.
Because it takes 90 to 100
days from germination to harvest, there’s only a slim chance of picking a
watermelon from your backyard for a Fourth of July picnic. But it just means
that you can celebrate the taste of summer longer.
To plant in the garden, find
a spacious, sunny area of your yard – the vines take up a lot of space. Create
a mound of sandy, loamy soil with organic compost or cow manure mixed in. Stir in a half cup of bone meal. Allow
about six feet between mounds. Then, plant three to five seeds per mound. After
the seedlings appear, keep the most vigorous two and pull up the others.
Keep the mounds free of
weeds, to speed growth and encourage the vines to set flowers and fruit.
To grow watermelons in
containers, use ones that are at least as large as a half whiskey barrel. Fill
them with fresh, fluffy potting soil.
For containers, petite varieties such as Sugar Baby, Yellow Baby or
Yellow Doll will be more compact. and the melons will weigh only 6 to 10 pounds
Watermelons like it hot and
sunny, but keep the soil consistently moist with a top layer of compost, which
will also discourage weeds. After
melons have formed, apply fish or kelp emulsion, or other liquid fertilizers
that are low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous, every four weeks.
To know when the melons are
ripe, inspect the vines. The tendrils close to the stem will turn from green to
brown and become dry. The skin of
the melon hardens a bit, making it tough to penetrate with a fingernail. If the
stem snaps off the melon easily, it’s ripe. Don’t leave ripe melons on the vine more than a day or two,
because they rot quickly in the hot sun.
Debbie Moose cooks it
There’s a whole new world of
watermelons out there. The old–time giant, red-fleshed monsters the size of
bass boats have given way to smaller melons with pink or yellow flesh. I’ve
even seen a “personal watermelon” that’s smaller than a bowling ball.
No matter the size of the
watermelon, there’s one eternal question: Is it good? Melons are somewhat mysterious, and we’ve all been burned by
ones that looked great but had poor flavor. Unfortunately, some flavor issues
are beyond our control.
Hot, dry weather makes the
best watermelons. A wet summer produces fruit with flavor that is not as
intense and tastes, no pun intended, watered down. Watermelon fans should hope
for a fiery summer.
Look at the yellowed
underside, where the melon sat on the ground. It should not be soft or
discolored, but firm. Inspect melons for other soft or discolored spots. The
rind should be dull, not shiny.
Store whole watermelons in
the refrigerator for no more than a week. Once you cut them, the flesh softens
quickly, so don’t cut up pieces until you’re ready to eat them. Half
watermelons, wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated, should be used within a
couple of days after cutting.
A friend and I spend summers
making jams and jellies. We tried a new recipe last year using watermelon
juice, and it was a hit. We’ll be making it again this summer, giving us yet
another reason to look forward to watermelon season. The recipe is from “Ball’s
Complete Book of Home Preserving.”
Zesty Watermelon Jelly
My friend and I tried one
batch of this jelly with more lemon juice and less vinegar. We preferred the
flavor of the more-vinegar version, because the tartness balanced out the
sweetness of the watermelon. For more information on canning, visit
6 cups chopped watermelon,
½ cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 stem lemongrass, chopped
into 1- to 2-inch pieces
2 (3-ounce) pouches liquid
IN a large stainless steel
saucepan, crush watermelon with a potato masher. Cover and heat gently over
medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and crush thoroughly. Transfer
the juice to a dampened jelly bag or a strainer lined with several layers of
dampened cheesecloth set over a deep bowl. Let drip, undisturbed, for 2 hours.
You should have 2 cups of juice. If not, prepare more watermelon.
MEANWHILE, prepare a
water-bath canner. Clean and sanitize jars and lids.
TRANSFER the watermelon juice
to a clean large, deep stainless steel saucepan. Stir in vinegar, lemon juice,
sugar and lemongrass. Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a full
rolling boil that can’t be stirred down. Stir in pectin. Boil hard, stirring
constantly, for 1 minute or until the mixture reaches the jelling point when
tested with a spoon. Immediately remove lemongrass pieces with tongs and
POUR hot jelly into hot jars,
leaving ¼ inch headspace, wipe rims and screw on lids. Place jars in canner,
ensuring that they’re completely covered with water. Bring the water to a boil.
Process for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then
remove jars and let cool on racks or folded kitchen towels on the counter.
Yield: 5 (8-ounce) jars.
NOTE: If you don’t want to
can the jelly, refrigerate it in sterilized, covered containers and use within
Adapted from “Ball Complete Book
of Home Preserving”
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