Should I water my melons or not?

gamebirdAugust 8, 2009

It's been very dry here and the ground around my melons is pretty parched. But I worry about them cracking. If I water them, they might swell and crack. If I don't water, they won't continue to grow and flourish. There's no significant chance of rain in the forecast right now for the next week. The plants are starting to show signs of stress.

I haven't watered the melons since... I don't know, June? since most are well mulched. Today I found a watermelon that had cracked and I don't know why it did, because they haven't gotten any water to make them crack. It hasn't rained recently.

Right now, I'm watering my corn, flowers, tomatoes and things and I was planning to move on to watering the melons. Having found the cracked one, it reminded me that watering melons while they fruit isn't good as it leads to cracking. After thinking about it a bit more, I realized there's a logic problem with not watering... they need water. Is it just that I shouldn't water them very much?

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Game bird,

I'd water the melons if none of them are within a week of being harvested (and I know it can be hard to know what will be ripe within the next week) and they seem parched.

With melons, the whole issue of when/how/how often to water is very difficult to figure out, and it hinges on your soil, how well it does or doesn't hold moisture, etc. With most melons, the root systems spread out far but don't go as deeply as those of pumpkins. So, they actually sometimes benefit from more frequent watering, for example, than pumpkins. Your melon roots ought to go down 6"-12", so I like to water with a soaker hose until the top 6 to 8 inches of soil are moist, but not soggy. Then, I'll water again when the soil is almost, but not quite, completely dry. My clay holds moisture fairly well, so I don't water much.

When melons crack or split open, it can occur because they received too much water at one time....say, from a heavy rainstorm.....when they are pretty close to ripening. They also can crack open when they are overripe. Or, sometimes they crack open when a prolonged wet spell is followed by a prolonged dry spell.

To avoid splitting, try to keep them evenly moist but then let them dry down that last week as they approach maturity. One way to do this is to harvest one day---say, Saturday, for example. Then, water after harvesting that day or water the next day. Continue to stay on that schedule where you only water right after picking the mature melons. Don't water again until you've harvested the next batch. That way, they stay slightly dry which intensifies the flavor and the plants get water on a somewhat regular basis.

One reason melons grow so much better on sandy soil is that it drains so quickly that is it almost impossible to overwater them there and their flavor is amazing. Those of us with clay soil have a much harder time getting the amazing flavor and no splitting.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2009 at 9:40PM
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I can vouch for Dawn's statement about melons growing well in sandy soil! Here around Thunderbird Lake, that's all we have so we've watered on a regular basis most all season. We've had probably a dozen cantelopes in the last 3 weeks and now the sugar babies are ripening...faster than we can eat them (to the delight of our friends & family!). However, we do the harvest first, water the next day cycle. Usually every 4 or 5 days.

There's a field down the road this year that had always been wheat (or something they bailed). This year an old man plowed it up, cleaned out the brush and planted. For weeks we wondered what he was doing only to discover he'd planted cantelopes and watermelons! It's probably 2 acres! One small part by the drive he's planted some okra, squash, beans and tomatoes. He's only watered the field maybe twice and the rest was Mother Nature's drink. About a week ago when I was heading to work early, there were 3 pickups out there so loaded down that the bed was sagging! I don't know where he's selling them, but he's still harvesting! Truckloads! They are all beautiful melons! I'm surprised the deer haven't cleaned him out! (or any two-legged varmints!)


    Bookmark   August 8, 2009 at 10:00PM
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I've been surprised I've had no theft by coyotes or deer. I did have my first cantalope gnawed on a bit by mice. Or I suppose mice. It had a quarter-sized hole about a half inch deep.

I have no idea how to tell if the watermelons are ripe. The muskmelon/cantelopes have been easy enough with color change (or mouse chewing). So far of the four watermelons I've harvested, one was way underripe and composted, one was fairly underripe but I ate it anyway, the one I have on the counter now is perfectly ripe, and the one that split was perfectly ripe. I've been picking them because they're big and I'm hungry and failing any other method of determining ripeness, I think I'll stick to that.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2009 at 11:38PM
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My one melon is in a container and I have watered almost everyday. We had our first ripe canteloupe Aug 7. That seems really late to me, but then I am very far north.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 1:15AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Watermelons give subtle ripeness clues, although some varieties give better clues than others.

The tendral that's closest on the vine to the watermelon turns brown and dries when the melon is ripe. The color on the underside of the melon that touches the ground turns a dull, creamy yellow color and, with some melons, it gets a slightly rough texture. Also, once you've grown a particular variety and know how large it tends to get in your soil and your conditions, then the size of the melon is also a clue because a melon is not likely to be ripe if it weights 15 lbs. and the standard melon for that plant is 25-30 lbs. Finally, when you thump a ripe melon, it makes more of a hollow, dull sound whereas an unripe melon makes a sharper, ringing sound.

I don't pick a watermelon until it meets all 4 criteria--the size has to be right for that variety, the underside a creamy-yellow and often roughly textured, the tendral dried and the thumping sound. If a melon only meets 1 or 2 of the criteria, it is ripening but not fully ripe. However, if it meets all 4 criteria, it never fails to be ripe.

With muskmelons (generally called cantaloupes in this country although they are not true cantaloupes), you have to check daily because they can go from "not quite ripe" to "ripe" overnight. With many of them, the aroma is a dead giveaway. Also, the abscission layer at the stem will crack and you can gently tug at the melon. Once the abscission layer is about 75% separated from the vine, the melon is ripe and separates from the vine with only the gentlest tug. If you use a more forecible tug to yank a melon off the vine when the abscission layer is only about 50% cracked, the melon will not be as good as if you left it on the vine until it is at full slip (75% to almost 100% cracked).

Other melons like true cantaloupes and inodorus (like canary, casaba and crenshaw melons) are harder to judge. With some of them, there is a color change that is very obvious although it is hard to know what to look for the first time you grow a particular melon. Collective Farm Woman is a very dark green as it grows, for example, but turns a deep golden yellow as it ripens. Different melons may exhibit more subtle changes as the primary color takes on a hue that changes from a gray or greenish color to one that is more brown or yellow.

Melons that are in the reticulatas family and have a more netted appearance will get increasing amounts of netting as they ripen. The more coarse the netting and the more widespread it is on the melon, the better the flavor. Most netted melons get softer as they get riper too.

Among the hardest to judge in terms of ripeness are the melons of the inodorus type like crenshaw, canary and casaba melons. They also tend to have a very long DTM. These melons don't have any netting to judge them by, they lack smell until after they've been cut open, they don't get softer, etc. With them, you'll have to go more by the DTM and very subtle clues like the most subtle of color changes and the appearance of tiny cracks in the rind.

Hope this info helps.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 6:51AM
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Cantaloupes are easy to tell when they are ripe. They lose ALL hint of green in between the netting, and their perfume wafts in the breeze. That said, I've bought cantaloupe in the grocery store that wasn't quite to that stage, and left them on my kitchen counter until I thought they were ready. The difference in the depth of the rind and in the sweetness of the fruit is great.

I remember when I was a little girl, testing a watermelon for ripeness was a manly event. My Dad thought Black Diamond was THE GREATEST. The men would all go to where the melons were growing, circle around the melon in question, and Dad first "thump" it. They would discuss whether they thought it sounded like it should, and if it didn't, they'd move to the next likely candidate. Once they found one that sounded ripe, Dad would cut a triangular hole, angling his pocket knife so that what popped out was a mini pyramid. From that, they discussed the thickness of the rind and the pinkness of the "meat". If it wasn't ripe yet, Dad would put the triangle back in. I just don't remember (I was small at the time) whether the melon healed itself or whether they just left that one there to rot, or whether Dad came back later and picked it for the pigs. I know the pigs would fight each other for the rinds. Dad always let one of the guys carry the watermelon up to the house, pretending it was too heavy, and all the guys would pass it around and try to guess how heavy it was. It was almost more fun to watch the procedure than it was to eat the melon.

I really cherish the memories of my Dad and how he and his sons-in-law and one son got along. Every family gathering we had eventually led to all of them out in the gravel drive, under the shade tree, with their heads all under the hood of one of the cars.

But anyway.

You know, don't you, that if you have extra cantaloupe or watermelon, you can puree it and freeze it? Thawed and poured into popsicle molds, then refrozen, they are delicious all on their own, a vitamin-filled treat when they are out of season.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 9:05AM
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Ilene, I hadn't thought about that for years and I'm not sure I ever would have without your reminder. My Dad called it "pluggin' a melon". Of course, In those days there was an abundance of melons. I can remember when they sold 4 for a dollar. Of course, I can also remember paying $10.50 for one in Alaska. I only bought one at that price, but when I left there and came back to Tinker, I had watermelon on my lunch tray everyday that the cafeteria had it. I am a melon lover, much more so than the rest of my family. My Mom says it is because my Dad gave me watermelon juice in a spoon when I was 6 weeks old. I acquired a taste at a young age. LOL

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 10:04AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

My old farmer friend, Fred, calls it cutting a "plug" too and he used to mention doing it occasionally when we first moved here, but he hasn't mentioned it lately. He grows a lot of melons on the sandy soil at the old home place on the river and has to fight the coyotes for them. I asked him once if the melon got rot in the plug area (he said it didn't) or if the ants found that plug area and used it to make entry (he said they didn't).

I've never tried cutting a plug, but I've had some very slow to mature melons that I thought about plugging.

I don't remember when melons sold 4 for a dollar. I do remember guys selling them out of the backs of pickup trucks for $1 when I was a kid though. A really large, really great melon like a Black Diamond, though, would sell for $2.00 or $2.50. My dad used to call them Yellow Belly Black Diamond, which strikes me as odd, since most watermelons have that yellow spot on the 'belly'.

I love the remembrances of our dads.....walks down memory lane are so much fun.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 12:39PM
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I can't get over how expensive watermelons are this year. Wow! Around July 4, the stores only had the seedless variety and they were $5 each. Right now they're on sale for $3.50. But none of them are very big. Certainly not like a big ol' Black Diamond. I wonder if the wacky spring weather has caused a crop failure or something. We had one of the seedless, it was good, but even at the sale price, not very economical. I made watermelon pickles too. At that price, gotta get all the good out of it possible! LOL

There's a fellow selling "roast-neers" and tomatoes out of the back of his truck in the Dollar Store parking lot in Dewey as we speak. I haven't gone to ask his prices. I think a lot more folks would sell stuff out of their trucks if the store managers would let them. Heck, my daughter got in trouble for giving kittens away in a WalMart parking lot once, so I guess you gotta be careful these days. There's a farmer's market that convenes every Saturday morning in Downtown Bartlesville, but their prices are extreme, to my mind. Of course they're playing the "fresh" and "organic" cards and people are buying. I bought a gallon of Kansas honey there and some scented geranium plants, but I thought the prices of those were reasonable for what they were. Oh, for the days when you could buy direct from the farmers for less than you paid at the grocery store.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 1:54PM
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