Monday, 9 September 2013

Small Shining Light Watermelon & Sugar Baby Watermelon - Watermelon Twins

These two melons are remarkably similar in appearance and flavour, in spite of originating on different continents. I have found them both to be very good: not the sweetest watermelons, but sweet enough, with a pleasant flavour and crisp, juicy, fine-textured flesh. Seeds are small but numerous, and since they grow in defined channels fairly easily removed. I can recommend both these melons, but I do think that Small Shining Light is the better of the two, mostly because of its better keeping qualities. 

Small Shining Light Watermelon

Small Shining Light (Ogonyok)

This traditional Russian watermelon is still fairly difficult to find, although it is very well suited to growing in Canada. It was brought to North America by Seed Savers Exchange 1991, and has been picked up by a number of seed sellers since, including Cottage Gardener Heirloom Seed, Heritage Harvest Seed, and Tatiana's Tomato Base.

The watermelons are round to slightly oval, with a very dark green solid-coloured rind, often with a yellow patch where they rest on the ground. The vines are quite manageable, at about 10 feet, and the melons vary from about cannonball size to basketball size. At 80 to 90 days to maturity from planting out, they are very workable in our shortish seasons.The black seeds are small, and reasonably easy to remove from the crisp, juicy, pink flesh.

Small Shining Light is supposed to be tolerant of cooler weather, and certainly it still produced reasonably well in this cool, rainy year. However, it was not as sweet as it has been in other, drier, warmer, summers. Still, very enjoyable. Unlike Sugar Baby, Small Shining Light is a good keeper, and can be kept for several weeks after harvest in a cool, dry spot. Not surprisingly, I have found them to hold on the vine quite well too.

Sugar Baby Watermelon

Sugar Baby

Sugar Baby is a much easier to find watermelon than Small Shining Light. My first impulse is to say that, in spite of this, Small Shining Light is much the better watermelon, but this view is coloured by the fact that my first packet of Sugar Baby seeds grew vines that rarely produced any melons! It took me a while to figure this out, as the two melons look SO similar. I did finally figure it out last summer, and this spring I threw out my old seeds, got a new packet, and made sure the two were not growing close enough together to confuse me. So now, I finally have Sugar Baby melons. They seem to be producing more melons than the Small Shining Light, but noticeably smaller. Also, they have not kept well on the vine - I have had to throw away several which were very overripe (rotten) as I did not pick them early enough.

The description for Small Shining Light fits Sugar Baby as well, with the note that they are smaller melons, shorter vines at about 6 feet, and ripen sooner - 75 to 80 days to maturity should do it. As noted, mine did not hold at all well, so watch them carefully and eat them promptly.

Sugar Baby started life as the much less attractively named Tough Sweets. M. Hardin of Geary, Oklahoma, inbred and selected Tough Sweets for 13 years before releasing the resulting watermelon in 1955 as Sugar Baby, since which time it has spread far and wide as well adapted, early, small melon. Tough Sweets seems to have disappeared as a watermelon, completely supplanted by its offspring.

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