Four Tips for Growing Your Best Watermelons

by Heather Stone

Picture of a just-cut red watermelon

Photo courtesy of pixabay

If you have space, make room for a hill or two of watermelons in your garden. They are easy to grow and like any fruit and vegetable, they just taste better when they are plucked straight from the garden. Besides, nothing says summer quite like a juicy slice of watermelon.

 

Here are a few tips for successfully growing watermelon.

 

  1. Choose the right variety for your climate

Most watermelons need 80-95 days to ripen, but some varieties require even longer. Choose one that works for your area. You can get a head start by starting seeds indoors about three weeks before your last frost date or by purchasing established plants. Plant outside when all chances of frost have passed and the soil temperatures are in the 70’s.

 

  1. Give them room to roam

Watermelons need lots of room to ramble. It is not uncommon for vines to reach up to 20 feet in length. The vines don’t like to be regularly moved so pick a spot where you can let them roam freely.

 

  1. Know when to water

Keep plants moist when starting off and until fruits begin to form. Watermelons are fairly deep-rooted plants, so in some climates, you might not need a lot of extra moisture except during extended dry periods. When watering, water at the roots and try to avoid getting the leaves wet. This helps to keep down on the spread of fungal diseases. Once the fruit has begun to set, experts say to hold off on the water to concentrate the sugars in the fruit, giving you a sweeter melon.

 

  1. Know when to harvest

    Photo of a green watermelon on the vine.

    Photo courtesy of pixabay

It’s not always easy to know when your watermelon is ripe. To start, check the “days to harvest” of your variety and begin to check for maturity when plants have reached that age. The color of the bottom spot where the melon sits on the ground will turn from white to yellow as the melon matures. Also, watch for the rind to turn from a bright, slick appearance to a more dulled look. The skin or rind should be tough enough that a thumbnail won’t pierce the skin. After picking, chill for best flavor.

 

WHAT’S BUGGING YOUR GARDEN


By Engrid Winslow

Cartoon of a person armed with cans of pesticide spray.

Image by André Santana from Pixabay

Mysterious holes in the leaves of your favorite rose? Earwigs buried deep in the leaves of your lettuce? Flea beetles mangling your perennials and vegetables? Most people are averse to creepy crawlies in their gardens but, please, BEFORE you reach for the chemicals to blast them into the stratosphere, consider that all of the insects are essential to having a healthy garden and planet. So here are a few suggestions for less toxic remedies to try in your garden.

Slugs – small saucers of beer tucked under leaves will attract them and they will fall in and drown. Slugs aren’t picky so don’t waste a craft brew on them – Coors works just fine.

Earwigs – There are a couple of things you can try for these and one is a small saucer of soy sauce with a little bit of vegetable oil and you’ll get the same results as with the slugs, above. You can also roll up several sheets of newspaper and get them fairly wet. Slide them under your plants in the evening and throw them away in the morning.

Aphids – These are a very weak, soft-bodied insect that feed on tender new foliage and buds. You can bet that if you have aphids, you will soon have a host of ladybugs feasting on them. If you can’t wait, then use soapy water with a few drops of oil and spray or dab on the foliage. You can also use garlic spray.

Cartoon drawing of an aphid.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Flea and other beetles – Diatomaceous earth is a mineral composed of the skeletal remains of tiny sea creatures. It has edges that are sharp and will pierce the bodies of beetles and cause them to dry out. It will harm beneficial insects and earthworms, so use sparingly. Also, don’t breathe it into your lungs.

Cartoon drawing of a grasshopper.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Other insects – Use a lightweight row cover to protect young plants and the ones that are being chomped on the most.

There are other products available at most garden centers now that gardeners are more aware of the consequences of the use of most pesticides to insects, animals, fish and even people. Some of the best tools in your arsenal are: (1) creating biodiversity and selecting plants that attract pollinators and (2) nurturing the soil by using products such as compost and nettle teas. Recognize that most pests run their course if you are patient and wait for their predators to show up.

Lacy Phacelia

by Heather Stone

Photo of a bee on a Lacy Phacelia blosson.

Image by Cydonia from Pixabay

 One of my favorite plants began blooming this week, Lacy phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia. It has many common names including lacy scorpionweed, tansy leaf phacelia, blue tansy, purple tansy and my favorite, bee’s friend. Clusters of light blue-violet flowers that unfurl in a fiddlehead shape sit atop attractive fern-like foliage. Reaching heights of 1-3 feet and blooming for 6-8 weeks this fast-growing wildflower is an excellent addition to any garden. It also makes an excellent cut flower. 

 

Native to the southwestern United States, this easy to grow annual does well in hot, dry conditions but easily adapts to a variety of site conditions. Lacy phacelia seeds germinate readily in 15-30 days. Sow seeds early in the spring while there is still a possibility of frost. Ideal soil temperatures for best germination are between 37-68 degrees F. Press seeds gently into the soil at a depth of ⅛-¼”. 

 

It’s not only the lovely blue-violet flowers that make lacy phacelia one of my favorite plants. Lacy Phacelia is well known for its ability to attract bees and butterflies to an area. It is a heavy nectar producer and is listed in the top 20 pollen-producing flowers for honeybees. Having this source of high-quality nectar and pollen means you’ll be attracting many native bees, bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies to your garden. I have these flowers growing near my front porch and just this week I counted 4 different varieties of bees on the few flowers that just started blooming. 

Unfurling blossom of Lacy Phacelia.

Image by rihaij from Pixabay

Trying growing lacy phacelia near your vegetable garden to increase your yields. 

Lacy phacelia also does well in containers. These containers can then be moved to different areas of the garden that need pollination. The benefits of Lacy phacelia as a cover crop are becoming more popular. It is widely used in Europe as it aggressively outcompetes weeds and absorbs excess nitrates and calcium from the soil. But it’s most important contribution is its pollinator attracting power. 

 

Lacy phacelia readily self sows so removing flowerheads before they set seed helps limit any unwanted volunteers. Though when you see these beautiful flowers and how many pollinators they attract to the garden you might want to let a few of these wildflowers go to seed.