For years I have tried to grow watermelon. When they actually grow, as opposed to wilting off, I get fruit about the size of my fist. Sweet, but tiny. This year for the first time we got not one but two almost basket ball sized watermelons. I thought they were Sugar Baby watermelons but I’m not sure based on the color pattern. They were delicious!

Our short growing season makes watermelon a decided challenge. This year was a longer frost free season that usual and that certainly helped. But of the 50 watermelon seedlings I started and planted I only got two melons. Both came from a group of six plants I had placed just along the opening of the house end pig shed where they got wind protection, lots of manure from last year’s winter farrowing, lots of water from the overflow of the spring and the warming effect of the translucent shed roof. That spot is on the southern corner of the old farm house and gets the maximum amount of daily sunlight.

Of all the factors, I think the house end shed, with it’s warming of the local nano-climate, was the biggest effect. It is sort of like an open greenhouse. Under the shed it is always much warmer. Important since our summer temperatures rarely get above the high 70’s. Under the shed roof and right around it was considerably warmer. I suspect that the watermelons need those higher temperatures. Tunnel greenhouses, something I tried with them before, might not have worked because it was too wet causing all the plants to damp off.

So, 50 plants produced two watermelons. That’s a pretty bad ratio. But, I have proved I can do it and think I can duplicate it. Time to start planning next year’s garden.

Speaking of food, we finally went shopping, did laundry and in town errands. Yes, we’re that family that comes in and uses all the big washing machines… We try to schedule for slow times. Usually we go in every three months but will need to adjust that schedule now that we’re in the tiny cottage where we don’t have as large a pantry. Time will tell but my guess is monthly or even every two weeks will be necessitated until we build the new cold cellar up on the hill behind the cottage. Another year’s project.

Outdoors: 42°F/30°F Mostly Sunny
Farm House: 55°F/52°F Shopping & Laundry
Tiny Cottage: 63°F/51°F Fire! (in the wood stove) Door and windows open most of day for burn off of pipe and stove. Still smelly.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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24 Responses to Watermelon

  1. crabapple says:

    do you have squash vine borers there? Maybe they had something to do with the wilting. They can be prevented with several organic methods.

  2. Lisa says:

    For the first time, I tried watermelons, Sugar Baby, to be exact. I bought 2 seedling and gave them their very own raised bed to ramble in. One died pretty quick in the weirdness of last summer. The other plant grew and grew, but no melons.

    Then, just when I was giving up hope (and ready to pull up the vine!) the sucker started setting fruit. Of course, by now it was late August. I pinched a few off to conserve plant energy, and ended up with 5 mediumish melons. Not knowing what i was doing, or when they were ready, most were sacrificed to my ignorance. But I did get 2 decent ones to eat… in October! Weird!

  3. annie says:

    Hi! I just stumbled upon Sugar Mountain Farm while searching around for info on raising piglets! My husband and I (noth in our forties) have decided to give up the corporate life and move to a farm! Guess you’ve heard that before – hah! My husband has always been an expert gardener although having only two acres presently. We’ve been studying farm living, specifically raising chicken, pigs, and goats along with my husband’s crops. So…what’s your best advice that won’t be found in any business plan???? Should we begin with only crops, only pigs, chickens or goats? Or begin with a “sampling” to get our feet wet? -Annie

  4. Annie,

    #1 thing: Plant apple trees immediately. That is my number one regret. I should have planted apple trees 15 or 20 years ago. Instead I kept saying I would figure out the perfect place and plant next spring. Took me 15 years or more to do it.

    Lesson: Do something. A little version. Scale up. That’s how I do most things but I should have done it with the apple trees. Start small with several things now and gradually grow each. It takes a year with each, or longer, to get the hang of things.

    Livestock are wonderful for creating manure and I would strongly suggest getting some. Pigs and chickens are both very easy.

    Word of advice on pigs, in the spring the demand is very high so find a source now and reserve piglets so you can get them during the spring. Otherwise you may have to wait until mid-summer when demand tappers off.

    As to sampling, very good idea since you don’t know what you like yet. We have done rabbits, chickens, sheep, geese, ducks, guineas and pigs. We like the pigs and chickens most. Sheep don’t sell all that well and I find more difficult. They also don’t breed or grow as fast. But, you’ll have to find what works for you and your ways of being.

    Have fun!



  5. karl says:

    we planted immediately, asparagus, cherry, apple, peach and plums. the plums died from the sinister spraying of the local electric company. but we are hoping for fruit soon. the asparagus will sustain a full six week harvest this year yum.

  6. Patti says:

    You only do laundry every three months??????

  7. Nakid farmers. :) Just kidding! Yes, it accumulates until we run out of cloths and then we do a huge laundry run, get everything washed and start getting it dirty again. Rinse and repeat. :) During the winter things don’t actually get dirty that easily – snow’s pretty clean. Also we wear a work suit over our inner cloths so that is what gets dirty. Lots of underwear and socks – a limiting factor!

  8. I noticed that you said that Saddle pig died. I was just reading about her last litter. What happened, it made me feel bad for you. Also, I have a question for you. A long time ago when we had pigs we had a problem with mange. That were in wooden pens with no way to disinfect. Have you had that problem and/or do you know anyway to prevent it?
    Still reading and enjoying everyday.
    I drink up your life lessons like a starved animal. We are always searching for the tried and true way to do something and I think you have tried most of them!

  9. Beth,

    Saddle died of a prolapsed rectum. She was getting on in years. We have a gene for prolapse in our pigs. I’m working on breeding it out. I think I have the lineage worked out. It will take time to eliminate the gene from the herd – I don’t want to simply cut off other good genes along the way.

    We’ve never had a problem with mange. Knock on wood. :)



  10. Zac says:


    Asian pears, pears, and peaches are great too- We do not spray them and most fruits are saleable. I personally can’t say the same for apples, but they are a must also.

    Rabbits- We get more calls for rabbit meat than other meats. Some european style, communal pens really help, and we incorporate that directly into our gardens. Keep your fence hot for the pigs.

    Chickens- everyone likes fresh eggs- especially in the beginning, things everyone knows are better will work.
    power to farmers!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi Annie,
    I wanted to expand on Walter’s comment of doing a little version. Whatever you do, do it slowly. Small baby steps.

    We had done rabbits, chickens, ducks and sheep (all in small quantities) before we got our first pigs. We purchased four piglets. They were a year old before we had them bred. After they farrowed, we slaughtered our first pig. So it was about a year and a half before we actually had our own pork.

    Being a good farmer is more about knowledge and life experience then about putting money into animals, seeds and stuff. Grow slowly. Try lots of different things and figure out what works for you. Walter does tons of research and then he orders a variety to try (different breeds of chickens or different kinds of electric fence insulators.) Just a few of each, to learn. It is a learning process.

    The story we keep hearing about is people wanting to farm, jumping in with lots of money and they are soon gone again. They build a fancy barn and buy lots of animals and then they don’t know how to make it work. It is a slow, learning process. Start small. Most farmers we know have multiple sources of incomes. They are loggers and carpenters and have “day jobs.” Not all, but most.

    Best of luck.

  12. Jake says:

    Hi Walter,

    Try Minnesota Midget watermelon. It will give you fruit about that size. I haven’t grown it, but my Dad has success with it in northern Wyoming.


  13. Sue F says:

    I managed to grow a few this summer. I used some truck tires that were out in the shed and good for nothing. Filled them with dirt and manure planted the seedlings and put a plastic tent over them until they got too big rather than waiting for the weather to settle before removing it. Had some cantaloupe in the there too. Delicious!
    I think constant heat is the key. Melons really like it tropical.

  14. Sue F says:

    Annie, about goats…
    You need to have good fencing or you will have nothing. You also need a particular sense of humor to keep them. They can get out of almost anything including electrified barbed wire. They like the roofs of expensive sports cars to play king of the mountain. They will eat or at least taste test lots of different plants. They will devour your most expensive ornamental plants. $80 daylilies are eaten into oblivion. Sapling fruit trees are debarked. This is all with constant hay and browse in front of them.
    I’ve got about 18 acres of half grown in fields fenced for my horses and 3 goats. Still the goats will wander my yard tasting and testing things. The regular electric fence doesn’t bother them when they have their winter coats and they find a spot where they can slip out when in their short coats. They know how to open my back door. They can work a simple latch easily. I even had one at one time that knew to unplug the electric fence. Laundry hanging on a line isn’t eaten but it is pulled down in a game.
    Still I like goats. Kind of like having an ADHD kid around all the time.

  15. The truck tire trick! I haven’t tried that with melons. Thanks for the tip.

  16. Walter — Growing up on Long Island, NY, I used to tend our family veggie and flower garden and use to have lots of luck with watermelons. My dad still tends the gardens and he has lot of luck with watermelons too. The funny thing is, we never did much for them except water them. Now, this is just a guess mind you, but our soil on Long Island is pretty sandy…maybe watermelons like a lot of sand?

    Annie — Nice to hear that you and your husband and starting farmlife! I’m doing the same and am planning on starting out with a small kitchen garden of veggies, herbs, and flowers, will be planting an apple tree and a pear tree, and will be starting out with chickens. I’d be happy to share the great chicken resources I found online with you!


  17. annie says:

    To All!

    Thanks so much for the advice for the “newbies” on starting our farm. Is it a coincidence that EVERYONE we’ve asked for farming advice is so friendly and willing to share?? Perhaps animal lovers in general are a “community”-type people. My husband has a great friend who leads a strict Amish life as a farmer. My husband works with him for two weeks of his “vacation” each year to learn. This Amish farm – in Lancaster, PA – is totally self-sufficient. No electricity is no problem, no grocery open – no problem, no fuel available – no problem (he uses Frank and Paul, the draft horses!) After his “lessons” my husband decided layer hens and pigs would be perfect! Also, veggies, fruits and grains. We’ve looked at wonderful properties/farms however, in PA deed restrictions abound. Stay tuned…. -Annie

  18. Reed Hedges says:

    I’ve only tried to grow watermelons twice with no luck. One time it was in the absolute wrong place– was living on a small lot with woods all around and it was mostly shady.

    Your comments about the microclimate of the shed makes me think about building a glassless orangeriehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangery. In my understanding, before they started putting glass on them they were just protected south facing courtyards.

  19. Funny you should mention an Orangery – Holly and I were just talking about doing that earlier this week. Citrus is anything but local to us. Occasionally we get oranges from Florida or California but with our infrequent shopping schedule it is a rare treat.

    I have experimented with building greenhouses both for plants and for animal housing. I’m working on a design that would have parallel bays in it. Each bay would have a rest period with plants and a time for livestock – e.g., pigs, chickens, sheep. During the livestock times the bay would have an open end like the sheds and dens we use. During the greenhouse time it would be closed up to keep it warmer for the plants. The livestock would fertilize their bays and heat the plant bays.

    In the center I was thinking of having an atrium that would never have the larger livestock and in there I thought, perhaps, I might grow oranges…

    If all goes well we’ll build one of these structures this summer and give it a try.

  20. Reed Hedges says:

    Sounds cool. Would it have a floo (with a layer or box of soil for planting), or be open to the ground (to plant in)?

    I have a potted Persian lime plant in a window that is doing great, only a year old though no limes yet.

    (I’m in southern NH)


  21. Reed, I will go with a dirt floor. I’m not sure if things like orange trees would need to be in tubs. For 14 years I had a pair of orange trees I had grown from seeds as a child but they never did produce any flowers or fruit. I kept them in very large planters – as big as I could haul around. In for the winter and back out for the summers. Sadly they died of a scale insect infestation decades ago.

  22. you need to buy small citrus trees as most of the ones grown here have been grafted to make a good fruit, ones from seed very seldom produce. we have started mango trees from seed and they do very well.

  23. oh, I am in Florida and my son in law grown citrus

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