The sugar baby watermelon is a favorite summer fruit that’s welcome in every household. It’s round and small enough to fit in your fridge without forcing you to vacate half your groceries first. And did we mention that it’s really sweet and delicious? The perfect snack on a hot afternoon.
It’s no wonder then that sugar baby watermelons are sprouting in many gardens. They’re easy to grow and care for. So if you’re craving a chilled bowl of fresh watermelon this summer, this guide walks you through the necessary steps of planting and growing sugar baby watermelons.
Know your Sugar Baby Watermelon
When it comes to watermelons as a fruit, connoisseurs have two criteria to judge and rate each species. The first is the size and the other is the sweetness. And sugar baby watermelons excel in both those categories.
Called the “icebox”, sugar baby watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) are small enough to make it easy for you to carry, handle, and store them in the fridge. On average, a fully grown watermelon weighs about 8 pounds and measures 7 inches in diameter. They’re the fun-size watermelons and are more suitable for small families or even as a snack for one person.
The other distinguishing feature of this particular species is its sweetness. In horticulture parlance, this is called “brix” and it measures the concentration of sugar in the watermelon. As far as sugar baby watermelons are concerned, their brix levels are around 10.2 making them one of the sweetest watermelons to grow out of one’s garden or farm.
The rind of the sugar baby watermelon really stands out. It comes in two color varieties. Either as a dark green background with lighter-green veins or deep green with veins of darker shades. Inside, the sea of red, crisp flesh is firm and crunchy and sporadically dotted with small dark seeds.
Reasons to Grow Sugar Baby Watermelons
As we all know, growing fruits is a lot of hard work. They’re more susceptible to pests and diseases and a small change in the temperature or conditions can impact the crop drastically. But that’s not really the case with sugar baby watermelons. Here are some of the reasons why growing the icebox watermelon is gaining traction among gardeners and hobbyists.
- The sugar baby watermelon takes only 75 days to ripen. Other watermelons need at least 120 days for full maturity.
- They’re easy to grow. As we’ll see later, you don’t need to go the extra mile to prepare the soil for a patch of watermelons. Most soils would do as they are.
- Icebox watermelons don’t need a lot of space. Their vines are compact and their spread-out is about 8 feet on the outside. Most watermelons have a vine that exceeds 19 feet at times.
- High productivity is another reason you’d want to grow sugar baby watermelons. Each vine yields between 2 and 5 fruits a year.
- Packed with sweetness and plenty of flavors, the icebox watermelon is high up there with ripe mangoes.
- They’re sometimes called “picnic watermelons” because of their small size.
- The fine-grained flesh has a wholesome texture that matches its sweetness.
How to Grow the Baby Watermelon
Since watermelons need a long time to grow, it’s recommended that you start the seeds indoors before you move them out to the garden. The main reason has to do with the controlled temperature inside your home. The seeds are sensitive to drastic changes in the weather during germination.
The optimal time to start the seeds is in mid-April about 6 weeks before you plant the watermelon in your garden. Plant the seeds in shallow pots. Each flat pot can take up to 3 seeds. As heat is crucial for the germination process, you need to keep the soil warm and cozy between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The seeds take up to 10 days to germinate. After 2 weeks lower the temperature to the lower 70s and move the plants, keeping one plant in each pot. Cut down on watering once leaves start to show. It’s also recommended that you take the pots outside from time to time to acclimatize them to the weather outdoors.
In mid-summer (usually in June) as the weather warms up, you can move the plants out to the garden. Make sure the soil is dry and well-drained. Use a plastic covering to protect the plants against the frost. Organic matter and mulch are also important for the growth of the sugar baby watermelon. As for pH levels, make sure you keep a consistent 6.5 level all the time.
The vines grow best when they’re planted in mounds. Prepare the soil in mounds each about 24 inches. You can plant 3 vines in each mound. Keep the mounds well spaced out with about 4 feet between each mound to give the vines enough room to grow and spread out.
During the early weeks, the plant needs plenty of water. Keep the soil moist until the fruits are as big as tennis balls. Then you can reduce the water. When the fruits are ripe, stop watering them for a week before harvesting to improve the concentration of sugar levels.
Care and Maintenance
From the moment your picnic watermelon seeds start to germinate in the flat pots to the time you harvest them, they need a lot of care and maintenance work. But it’s not really hard once you get the hang of it. Here are the main points of care that you need to keep in mind.
- Mulch: Mulch and organic matter keep the soil moist as they improve water retention and insulate the topsoil from abrupt weather changes and temperature fluctuations. Spread a 2-inch thick layer of mulch over the mounds between the seedlings and in the space surrounding each mound.
- Water: The water needs of the sugar baby watermelon plant change over time. In the early stages of germination and growth, the plant needs about an inch of water on a weekly basis. Moist soil improves the rate of growth and the quality of the fruit. But once the fruits are as big as your fist, you need to reduce the irrigation. When watering, make sure to water the soil, not the plant itself.
- Compost: You need about one inch of compost for each mound at regular intervals of 3 weeks. Water the vines after you add the compost.
- Excess Fruit: Each sugar baby watermelon vine produces on average about 2 fruits. That’s the normal yield. If a vine carries more than that, you should remove those extra fruits as they impact the growth and sweetness of the watermelons. Also, remove any fruits that show up early in the season.
- Rot: Since the fruits rest on the ground over a thick layer of moist mulch and compost, rot and fungus growth are common issues with icebox watermelons. To prevent this problem, you need to put a wooden board under each fruit. A square board of about 24 inches is ideal for our fun-size watermelon.
- Disease: The two things to watch out for while growing sugar baby watermelons are cucumber beetles and aphids. Both are lethal to the plant and impact the sweetness of the melons. You’ll need to patrol your watermelon patch regularly looking for cucumber beetles. If you find them, get rid of them using a bucket of water with a little detergent. Aphids can be removed by spraying with a garden hose.
Harvesting and Seed Collecting
Here comes the tricky part which every icebox watermelon grower faces. When exactly to harvest the ripe melons? They don’t exactly come off the vine when ripe the way cantaloupe does. You’ll need to rely on certain indications such as color, size, and time.
When the melon is between 10 and 12 pounds, that means it’s ready to harvest any day. But size alone is not a good indicator. You also need to check the color of the underside of the melon. Roll over the fruit and check the color of the side resting on the wooden board. If it’s a yellow color, then the melon is ripe. As for the lifespan of the watermelon, it is usually ready to harvest after about 75 to 80 days.
After you eat a sweet and ripe watermelon, keep the seeds in a water bowl. Scoop away the seeds that float since they might be sterile. Dry the remaining seeds and keep them in a jar for the next year.