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When You Experiment with Raising Watermelon

October 24, 2020

Another Way for week of October 23, 2020

Our Watermelon Story

We have a very good friend who was all excited about a watermelon he’d heard about: the best best best watermelon anyone ever tasted and didn’t we want to give it a try in our 30 by 90-foot Shenandoah Valley garden. We have pretty decent soil.

There are several things wrong with this proposal: you need a lot of space for meandering watermelon vines, and you need some sandy soil. Plus you need a very long growing season of days where soil temperature is at least 80 degrees.

In his work life (now retired), Joe was a crack salesman. Not the drug kind, but a really successful sales guy. You can guess what happened next: he convinced us to at least try. Maybe we’d learn something.

He sent for a packet of “Bradford Watermelon” seeds that cost $10 for about 20 seeds, give or take a few. Yes, you read right. They were the thickest watermelon seeds I’ve ever seen, and after fetching some cow manure off of a neighbor, we proceeded to spread the manure and mound up three hills. Finally, we planted the seeds on top with high hopes.

We could just imagine the lush sweet melons in late summer, for they required about 85 days growing time. We’d have a watermelon party! One of my nicknames from Dad was “Watermelody” because I was such a big fan of summer’s bright red treats. Dad grew numerous small varieties and even some larger ones in a mucky patch near a creek bed.

Our experiment would probably have benefited from some of that muck. We did water the plants almost every other day if it didn’t rain. The long sheet of directions said to “monitor the germinated seeds for vigor. Keep the strongest, cull the rest.” Only two seeds out of that pack ever germinated. What a bum deal. But finally, there were ample vines from those two seeds pushing up.

When blossoms actually started appearing on the vines I was ecstatic—you would have thought I was expecting a baby. My daughter had said I needed to be sure bees were pollinating the blossoms. I carefully hunted for the male and female flowers blossoming (and yes, they look sort of like actual male and female reproductive parts if you get my drift). You take a little pollen off of the male stemen that is a little stalk sticking up in the center of the flower, and rub it on a flower with a female stigma which is a sticky little knob. You know about the birds and the bees don’t you? Underneath the flower is a tiny immature melon that does not mature unless it is pollinated.

When the vines were spreading everywhere and among our precious corn.

I went out 8:30 a.m., which was too early because blossoms weren’t open yet, but by 9:30 a.m., bees and their pollination activity was happening all over our garden and I didn’t actually need to help it along.

Half the patch suddenly ended up looking like you see above on the left side of this picture.

And then. One evening I discovered that half of the watermelon patch lay in ruin: wilted, the life drained out of the vines. I almost cried. Perhaps a vole or critter or bug or virus attacked our lush watermelon vines, which by this time were edging their way into the precious corn rows, crawling up the stalks, and making mayhem out of our otherwise neatly mulched (with straw) garden. I ran into the house both sad and irate because I felt it was the end of our watermelon patch.

Closer inspection made me wonder if moles or voles had disturbed the vines?

Well, the other half of the patch did survive and by late summer, we counted maybe 12 or 13 melons which were actually growing. Most ended up rotting before ripening. But one day in early October, we cut into the best of two surviving smallish melons. Just meh. Edible, but not sweet or ripe or delicious. Not really tasty.

The “meh” watermelon party.

The moral of the story? You can try raising watermelon if you want to for a wonderful learning experiment in gardening. Just don’t plan to eat any.


What’s your worst gardening disaster story?

Have you grown watermelon successfully? I’d love to hear tips or tricks?


My father-in-law was a prolific gardener, but he did not raise watermelon because they took up too much ground for the results. What have you learned from your parents or grandparents?

Comment below or write to me at or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. Via email:

    “I’ve had failure and unexpected success growing melons here in southwest Pennsylvania. I sowed seeds several years and looked forward hopefully for luscious fruit. I was disappointed with the size and taste so I quit trying. Then one spring a volunteer watermelon seed sprouted on my compost pile. It thrived, producing a few large, oblong fruit like those sold in stores. The flavor was excellent. That gift was my first and last success growing melons.”

    Nick Russian

  2. Watermelons wouldn’t grow well in our soil here in Florida.

    Brava for courage to experiment though, Melodie!

    (By the way, your photos are not showing up on this post. Maybe I would have to switch to a different browser, but don’t see them here.)

  3. I see the photo now. Thanks!

    • And thanks for alerting me. My daughters don’t always get around to reading posts as quickly as you do! P.S. My mom loved this one, had a great laugh, said I was trying too hard. 🙂

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