Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Sweet Siberian Watermelon
Whoooo! Watermelon success at last!
Actually, we have managed to produce a watermelon or two in the last couple of years, but this is the first year we have had melons in any quantity. Unfortunately, we've struggled to get this melon bounty ripe, as they got off to a very slow start in our cold, wet June. However, we picked short-season melons for a reason and they have at least partially paid off. We'll be trying this one again next year, for sure.
We grew 4 Sweet Siberian watermelon plants, and got 5 large melons, plus a couple which did not ripen. In a better year, I don't believe 3 or 4 melons per vine would be too much to ask for. This doesn't sound spectacular, but these are nice compact vines. The four of them did not take up much more space than a 5 foot by 6 foot square. When vines grew out of their alloted space, we just turned them around and redirected them back in.
As you may suppose by the name Sweet Siberians originated in Russia. They were grown as early as 1901 at the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. After that, their history in North America is somewhat obscure, although they were offered by the Oscar H. Will Seed Company of North Dakota for a number of years. According to Heritage Harvest Seeds, where we got the seeds, they are still grown for market by Hutterites in Manitoba. They were recently re-introduced to the general public by Glenn Drowns of the Seed Savers Exchange after he acquired seeds from the USDA, and have been gaining wider notice since then. They are a quick-growing melon, ready in 80 to 85 days from planting out.
That was one reason we decided to try them. The other was that in a comparison of 17 different watermelons done in Santa Clara County (San Francisco bay area) they were selected as being tops for flavour. While Santa Clara County has a far longer growing season than we do, like us they don't always have the hot weather that watermelons love. We certainly thought these had excellent flavour, not just sweet but distinctly watermelony. The colour is pretty too, being a rich warm apricot yellow when ripe. The seeds seem to remain an oaky brown.
Like most melons, these like rich soil with plenty of compost, plentiful water and lots of heat. If we have another early start as bad as last years, we will not hesitate to cover them with the hoop-house. We grew them on the ground, but one started up our trellis and I think could have managed there quite well, although it was the last to start forming and never reached full size. The recommendation is to support watermelons with old pantyhose if you are going to trellis them. At 6 to 10 pounds each expected weight, these are fairly small for a watermelon.
It's also recommended to grow melons through dark plastic, which keeps weeds down and traps heat. We just mulched them with lawn clippings. That early heat is very helpful though. Watermelons do ultimately originate in Africa, and they have never lost their taste for sunbathing, even if we have acquired certain types via Siberia.
One problem with all watermelons is telling when they are ripe. The signs to look for: the tendril opposite the stem of the fruit turns brown and shrivels (but this may happen a week or so in advance of ripeness), weight increases and the melon sounds more hollow when tapped, the bottom of the melon turns from pale white to bright yellow (this is the most reliable indicator in my somewhat limited experience) and finally, the melon skin loses its shine and appears more dull overall. And finally, the test which really decides it: you cut them open and eat them. Yum? Yum! Ah, sweet success.