Watermelons have been grown for their deliciously sweet flesh for over 3000 years.
Believed to have originated in southern Africa, the popularity of this fruit has seen it spread across the globe.
History tells us that by the 10th century AD, watermelons were being cultivated in China, which today is the world's single largest watermelon producer. By the 13th century, Moorish invaders had introduced the fruit to Europe; and, according to John Mariani's The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, 'watermelon' made its first appearance in an English dictionary in 1615.

Direct sowing into the ground is the best way to grow watermelons from seed but for those of us who live in cooler, northern European climates, you will need to start your melon seed off indoors. This gives the resulting seedlings a fighting chance to produce and ripen their fruit in a much shorter growing period.

Sowing Seed Indoors

.Sow the seeds indoors around the middle of March into either 2-3 inch pots or large, modular seed trays. Use good quality loam based compost such as John Innes ‘seed and potting’, and avoid the temptation of using standard seed trays because you will want to disturb the root system as little as possible. You may wish to add a little extra horticultural grit or perlite to you compost mix as this will help with the drainage.

Melon seedlings will require plenty of water to ‘fuel’ their vigorous growth, but you don't want to attract fungal infections through over-watering. The extra drainage will help to reduce this.

Fill the pots/modules to between half and three quarters full, then using a dibber - or something similar - make a hole in the compost about 1 inch deep – one hole in each container. Now place 2 - 3 melon seeds in each hole, cover with compost and gently water in. To help with germination they will need to be moved to a warm sunny windowsill, preferably above a radiator. Allow the soil to become almost dry before further watering.

After a couple of weeks the seed will begin to show signs of germination. As mentioned before, young melon plants will require plenty of water and nutrition to grow, so feed them regularly with a 50% strength liquid fertilizer. Just make sure that they are never left waterlogged otherwise root damage and fungal infections can occur. At this time you can remove the weakest seedling so that only the strongest remains.

Once the threat of late frosts are over the melon seedlings can be planted outside into their final position but they will need to be hardened off for at least a week or two before hand. They will do best in a sunny, protected position with a slightly acid soil with a pH of between 6.0 and 6.5.

Remember that because of their origins Melons are cold-sensitive so keep an eye on both air and soil temperatures before planting out. They will prefer growing temperatures of between 70° and 80° F, but if cold weather does threaten the young melon plants would do well to have some kind of protection such as a mini poly-tunnel or cloche. If practical, they would benefit from being planted into a temporary cold-frame which could be removed during the heat of the summer.

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