The watermelon is native to Africa and has been cultivated since remote antiquity. Although a popular dessert vegetable in many parts of the world, it has met with greatest favor in the United States.
The watermelon is an important crop in every southern state and from some sections of the South it is shipped north in enormous quantities. Arizona and other western states are developing the industry. All of the northern states produce this cucurbit to some extent. It might be grown more largely, however, in the less favorable parts of the country were proper cultural methods adopted.
Rane (N. H. Sta. Bul. 86, p. 95) prepared a system of classification which should be familiar to students of vegetable gardening. The analytical key contains the following six classes, according to the color or markings of the skin: (1) Light Green Class, (2) Medium Green Class, (3) Dark Green Class, (4) Light Striped Class, (5) Dull Striped Class, and (6) Mottled Green Class. Each class is divided into two or three types. Many distinct varieties are offered by our seedsmen, the following being largely planted:
Kleckley Sweet Or Monte Cristo, exceedingly popular in many melon-growing districts, is a large, oval, dark green, somewhat mottled, melon of superior quality.
Kolb Gem is a favorite bright-red fleshed melon highly valued for commercial purposes.
Cuban Queen is a large melon which has been extensively grown for many years.
Halbert Honey is a large, attractive, sweet, tender sort, popular wherever it is known.
Dixie is an early, productive variety of good quality.
Sugar Stick is a large, light-green melon of handsome appearance, fine flavor and of excellent shipping qualities.
The watermelon thrives best in the South, where the seasons are long, the day and night temperatures high, and where frost seldom interferes with the progress of the young plants or the ripening of the fruits. The watermelon is more sensitive to cold than the muskmelon. Most of the varieties require a longer season in which to mature. While this vegetable demands heat, sunshine and a long summer, it may be grown and is produced successfully in the North when proper cultural conditions are provided.
The most successful growers are very particular in regard to the character of the seed which they use. Breeding plats are sometimes maintained, because it is important to take the plants as well as the individual melons into consideration. It is desirable to discard the seeds at the stem and the blossom ends of the melon, because they are not so mature nor so well developed. The seed is often kept four or five years, so that it is unnecessary to grow and save seed annually.
Watermelon seed is usually planted in the open ground where the crop is to mature. In northern districts, however, the plants are sometimes started under glass as described for cucumbers (436) and for muskmelons (512).
The soil must be well supplied with humus, although an excessive amount may cause too much vine growth at the sacrifice of fruit. The methods of soil preparation are practically the same as for muskmelons (513).
See notes (514) on fertilizing muskmelons.
See notes (515) on planting muskmelons. Where soil is rather poor, watermelons may be planted in hills, 8x8 feet apart; but the more common distance is 10 x 10 feet, while in rich soils the hills are often 12 x 12 feet. The seeds are sometimes planted in drills as explained for muskmelons (515), but more space is allowed between the plants in the row.
See notes (516) on cultivating muskmelons. Always stir the soil about the plants in the hills after hard rains, which may incrust the surface.