Sugarbaby melon not ripe

slowpoke_gardenerJuly 14, 2014

The melon was yellow on bottom, the " curl" was dead, and sunburn on top, but the melon was still not ripe.

This is the third time trying to grow watermelons and the third time I have had trouble getting a ripe melon. What am I doing wrong?

The melon was the ripest on the side exposed to the sun and most under developed on the bottom side. The top side also had the most seeds. The size was OK, about 14 lbs.

I expect I need more hot weather and sandy soil and more practice, what else?


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AmyinOwasso/zone 6b

Interesting, kind of looks like it was only half pollinated, which might account for only being ripe on one side. I grew a beautiful cantelope last year, basketball sized. All the signs it was ripe. It was tasteless. Granted, it was a nursrey plant, it was actually organic, but maybe not heirloom. I was told if there is a lot of rain during ripening (there was) that there would be little taste. I don't know if that might be effecting your melons.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 6:24PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Sugar Baby is a rebel that doesn't like to play by the watermelon rules.

With most melons, the yellow belly, a dry tendril (the one nearest the melon in question) and a dull or hollow ringing sound when thumped (ripe gets you a 'plunk' sound and unripe gets you a 'plink' sound) normally means a melon is ready. A couple of other ways to tell---the melon is neither really shiny nor really dull---it is right in between, and the surface is sort of wavy or rough if you run your hands over it instead of feeling perfectly smooth. The above methods work with most melons. Oh, and most watermelon varieties take you from flower to ripe fruit in about 5 calendar weeks, though sometimes in less time than that in very hot weather---it is as if the heat speeds them up somehow.

Now, for Sugar Baby....our rebel without a cause. Check the tendril daily. Once it is completely brown, note the date and leave the watermelon on the plant. Wait 7-10 days and harvest it and it should be perfectly ripe. If you are worried you'll forget or if you have several fruit getting brown tendrils at different times, you can write the date on the watermelon with an industrial Sharpie. It shouldn't wash off as long as it dries before rain falls. I use industrial Sharpies at Lowe's in the power tool area. I also use them for plant labels.

For whatever reason, and I have no idea why this is true, Sugar Baby's tendril turns brown before the watermelon is fully ripe. Sugar Baby was the first icebox watermelon I ever grew and it took me a while (as in most of the summer) to figure out I needed to wait at least a week after the tendril turned brown.

With most other watermelon varieties, the tendril being brown does mean the melon is fully ripe.

Or, you can do it Fred's way---he gets impatient waiting for a ripe melon so sometimes cuts a plug out of a melon while it still is on the vine. He checks the melon harvests it if the flesh on the plug is ripe. If the flesh on the plug is not ripe, he inserts the plug back into the area he removed it from. I have never tried this, for fear ants would make entry in the plug area, but he says that never happens to his.

Finally, watermelon flavor and color can be adversely affected by too much rainfall/irrigation and/or too much soil fertility. When you have a watermelon approaching maturity, withhold water from the vine for at least a week before you harvest. Of course, with rainfall, there's not much you can do---you cannot make the rain somehow not fall on the watermelon plants. Withholding the water helps intensify the flavor. The best-tasting watermelons tend to come from very well-draining sandy soils in areas with plentiful spring rainfall to get the plants off to a good start, but a lot less rain in summer, and hot weather intensifies the flavor. I try to ensure my watermelon plants get great moisture early on while the plants are growing and enlarging. Once they flower, I don't irrigate at all if I can avoid it, but do try to keep the soil evenly moist (not sopping wet) to avoid Blossom End Rot. You walk a fine line with watermelons between keeping them dry enough as the fruit ripens so it has good flavor but also not letting them get so dry that the fruit suddenly develop BER.

Also, for anyone reading this who has a smartphone, there is an App that's been around a few years that is supposed to help you determine if the melon you're looking at in the grocery store is ripe or not. I think it is called Melon Meter. I haven't used it so cannot comment on how accurate it is, but I assume you can use it with homegrown melons.


    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:12PM
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Dawn, thank you. That is all useful information, especially about the Industrial marker. I have never found a marker that will hold up. I write on blinds made into plant labels, turn the writing to the north so the UV rays don't hit it, and still cant get them to last. At least I know now where to get my markers.


    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:46PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Larry, You're welcome. The Industrial Sharpie works better for me that almost anything else I've ever tried, but I get a lot less rain than you do.....a lot, lot, lot I don't know if it will hold up to your rainfall.

The paint pens sold in craft stores wash off tags even less than the Industrial Sharpies do, but I never think to go and buy them at the start of gardening season.

I used to buy no-fade garden markers through seed catalogs and for a long time they worked really well. The last couple of times I used them, though, the words washed off the mini-blind-slat labels, so I think they have changed the formulation of the ink and I stopped buying them since they stopped working for me. I'm guessing they started making the ink from cheaper ingredients and that's why the words began washing away. I still have some garden labels made from back in the day when the no-fade markers actually worked that likely or 7 or 8 years old, but that sort of longevity is a thing of the past, I guess.

Sometimes I stick my mini-blind-slat marker with Industrial Sharpie labeling all the way into the ground, with only about a quarter inch of the tag sticking up above ground. Most years (maybe since we tend to be so dry here), that keeps the words from washing off the tags too, but sometimes it doesn't. When I want to check a variety name, I pull the tag up, read it, and then push it back into the ground.

You get so much rain there that I don't know if anything would keep the words from washing off. Maybe you need to chisel the names into flat, smooth river stones. : )


    Bookmark   July 15, 2014 at 6:14AM
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I am also trying to grow Sugar Baby and also harvested a "green" melon due to the tendril drying up, but this melon was quite small also, around 3 pounds.

I am growing them vertically and have only gotten two melons per plant to set. Is that about right or should one expect more than two melons per plant?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 11:39PM
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Pawnee Trader, this is my 3rd time growing melons, first time growing Sugar Baby. I cant see all my melons but I feel sure there is more than 2 melons per plant and they are still sitting fruit. I stated mine as weighing 14 lbs, but that is with me weighing on Bathroom scales and then picking up the melon and weighing again. The weight may not be correct but should be close, I think I have several that will be 10 lbs or more. My melons are just growing on a bed in my lawn. The vines are now out of the bed and the grass is growing up around them.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 12:36AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

In a typical year in typical conditions with adequate soil fertility and adequate moisture, Sugar Baby can easily produce 4 to 6 fruit per plant in our climate and sometimes 8 to 10 or more.

It is hard to guess why your plants haven't formed many fruit or why the one you harvested was so small. It could be a soil fertility issue. It could be low rainfall. It could be that you are growing them in clay soil. They really do much better in sandy soil, although they will grow well enough in well-amended clay soil to which a lot of organic matter has been added. As for why the plants haven't set more fruit, it is anyone's guess. Most icebox melons just bloom and bloom and bloom. Every flower doesn't give you fruit, but you should get a decent number of fruit per plant. If they are not flowering, the plants might need to be fertilized. If they are flowering, but not setting fruit, it might be a lack of pollinators.

While there is nothing at all wrong with Sugar Baby (it does have superb flavor), there are other icebox melons that produce more heavily. I usually grow several of them every year and my grow list of watermelons usually includes Sugar Baby, Yellow Baby, Yellow Doll, Tiger Baby, New Orchid and the slightly larger Hime Kansen, Blacktail Mountain and Harvest Moon. With the smaller-fruited melons, if they only produced 2 fruit per plant, I'd cross them off my list and plant something that is more productive.

If your plant is staying really small and not producing more fruit and you have ruled out a lack of nutrients or lack of water, then I wonder if maybe you got Bush Sugar Baby instead of the regular Sugar Baby.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 11:44PM
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Dawn, I told my granddaughter the things you said to look for and ask her to look for a ripe melon. She found another 14 pounder and we brought it in and cut it. You can see she did a better job than I did. There is another one about like this one, but we feel we need to wait about a week on it.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 1:39PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Larry, That is one gorgeous melon. It is a really nice size too. I think your granddaughter is going to be an extraordinary gardener because she is learning how to do it so young---and she has you to teach her what to do and how to do it. Now that your photo is making me hungry for watermelon, I may have to go into the kitchen and cut into one so I can gobble it up.

Learning to wait a little bit longer on Sugar Baby to ensure it is fully ripe will pay off and you'll be glad you've waited. Sometimes I've almost waited too long (the melon started to crack open), but when that happens, we just harvest it, cut it open and eat it that day and it tastes perfectly fine. Nothing is better than fresh watermelon you grew yourself.

I hope y'all enjoyed every bite.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 3:34PM
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Now that is beautiful and making me hungry too.
I am going to farmers market in the morning and will definitely be looking for watermelon

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 4:46PM
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I picked another Sugar Baby this morning to take up to Mom. I have only grown melons 2 times before, but I plan on growing them again next year. I have harvested 4 melons so far this year, a 11.5, (2) 14, and 15 pounder. I feel the size has been good, but I think the future harvest may be smaller.

We are already planning next years crop. We plan on giving up some of the peas and beans and planting the melons in the garden. I will use the melon bed for something I can make look a little neater.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 11:23AM
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