When planning a garden for self-sufficiency it’s important to pick the best fruits and vegetables to help sustain a healthy and balanced diet. Watermelons are one of the best thirst-quenching summer fruits available. Although it may be hard to imagine now, watermelons originated in Africa, where they were first cultivated in Egypt, a once lush and fertile land. The fruit was so esteemed that it was even placed within the tombs of pharaohs and prominent figures of the Egyptian culture.
Watermelons, like many brightly colored fruits and vegetables, are concentrated with powerful antioxidants which help the body maintain health in many ways. Antioxidants are touted by their ability to help in slowing down the visible signs of aging and there is no better way of getting them by eating delicious organic produce from your own backyard. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A and lycopene. These antioxidants travel through the body and neutralize free radicals which contribute to cellular damage. They also can in theory prevent cancer and heart disease when combined with a regular balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. Lycocene, which is also present in tomatoes and mangos, has been extensively studied for it’s cancer preventing abilities but has also been linked to prevention of heart disease because it protects the body from oxygen damage.
Watermelons, more surprisingly also contain the B vitamins which are needed to keep the body running efficiently. Because the food has a higher water content and lower calorie content than other fruit, it delivers more nutrients per calorie which contributes to a sustainable way to encourage the body’s energy production. This is one of the reasons behind the “watermelon diet.”
Watermelons can be started from seed indoors and transplanted after about 6 weeks into a warm soil, usually about 4 weeks after the last frost. In areas with extremely hot or cold weather watermelons may not produce quality fruit if the temperature cannot be regulated, as a greenhouse could do. If night temps drop below 50 degrees the plants will loose flavour. When 90 degree weather stays for more than a few days in a row, the plants flowers will fall off without producing any fruit. Watermelons require at least 65 and up to 90 days of frost-free weather to mature. If growing in cooler areas with short seasons the smaller varieties of melons will mature quicker and be more successful.
Garden beds should be prepared in mounds the autumn before planting with an aged manure or organic fertilizer. Then again with organic compost before sowing or transplanting. Planting 2 or 3 seedlings per mound will suffice and allow the vines to grown down the slope of the mound. If using a container, make sure it is big enough to support a vining plant and is placed in an area where the vines will have room to grow. Once ripe, when no visible white streaks are seen and a clear underbelly is present, it’s time for harvest. Watermelon can be stored at room temperature until eaten for up to 6-9 days, but should be placed in the fridge after being sliced. -KATIE FLYNN