Producing Watermelon Seed

Well, the way that we process the seed is: invite some folks over, slice up the melons and get everyone to spit the seeds aiming at a bucket of water. For any remaining melons, work the flesh through your fingers to dislodge the seeds. Add a squirt of dish washing soap to wash off residual sugars, swish the seeds around. The seeds tend to sink to the bottom and the pulp floats, so you can pour out the floatables and rinse the seed, then dump them on a screen or strainer to dry. That's it.

By the way, melons easily cross. Isolate your watermelon varieties by hand pollinating or other means or grow only one if you want to maintain pure seed. Long Island is one of the best places to grow melons and it always surprises me when I find so many gardeners that have the impression that they don't perform well here. The only problem with melons here at Flanders Bay Farm are the raccoons who have a sweet tooth and have learned to scratch a hole through the rind.

As surrounding development causes the deer and raccoon populations to visit the farm in increasing numbers, I can finally say the welcome mat is gone! At least in the garden areas.

Oh Canada,

I really liked these Early Canada melons. Small, oval and striped, I wasn't expecting the sugary and juicy flesh which had few seeds. Watch the tendril opposite the stem bearing the fruit. When it turns brown this watermelon is at it's peak. It ripens fast.

I really liked these Early Canada melons. Small, oval and striped, I wasn't expecting the sugary and juicy flesh which had few seeds. Watch the tendril opposite the stem bearing the fruit. When it turns brown this watermelon is at it's peak. It ripens fast.

Yugoslavian Yellow These medium sized melons look like cannonballs, like a small version of Black Diamond, but inside is this sweet yellow flesh. Originally from the USDA, collected in what was once Yugoslavia. People are always surprised when we cut these open. Although seedy (it just wouldn't be a watermelon without the seeds), they are a sure producer for us and are always high in sugar. A real treat.

Yugoslavian Yellow
These medium sized melons look like cannonballs, like a small version of Black Diamond, but inside is this sweet yellow flesh. Originally from the USDA, collected in what was once Yugoslavia. People are always surprised when we cut these open. Although seedy (it just wouldn't be a watermelon without the seeds), they are a sure producer for us and are always high in sugar. A real treat.

Early Crimson Sweet x Charleston A large round melon with sugary flesh of substance. A favorite in our testing trials. For a large melon, it is early, very productive and maintains it's size. Selection for consistent size, shape and quality is sure to result in a fine variety once stabilized.

Early Crimson Sweet x Charleston
A large round melon with sugary flesh of substance. A favorite in our testing trials. For a large melon, it is early, very productive and maintains it's size. Selection for consistent size, shape and quality is sure to result in a fine variety once stabilized.

A medley of melons awaiting our taste test

A medley of melons awaiting our taste test

This year's surprise was this very nice golden rind variety from Asia named Golden Jubilee (available from Dimension Trade Company, Scappoose, OR ). It was the earliest to produce fruit and we found smaller, later fruits that we didn't harvest stayed in good shape for months in the field. This is a hybrid melon and it will be interesting to see what the second generation from the seeds of this melon will produce.

This year's surprise was this very nice golden rind variety from Asia named Golden Jubilee (available from Dimension Trade Company, Scappoose, OR ). It was the earliest to produce fruit and we found smaller, later fruits that we didn't harvest stayed in good shape for months in the field. This is a hybrid melon and it will be interesting to see what the second generation from the seeds of this melon will produce.

Cream of Sasketchewan
In the early 1980's we received several varieties of melon seed from collector, Curtis Slyvester Showell. Curtis had an unbelievable collection of melons from USDA and other sources including a large number of "white fleshed" melons. My favorite was one of the early white melons, Cream of Saskatchewan, it still is. It looks like a popular hybrid from the outside, Yellow Doll (a great hybrid melon) and it has the same tendency to split as you cut into it. When I sink my teeth into a cold slice of "Saskatchewan", I can't help but think I'm eating a fine Italian Lemon Ice.

Crossing Watermelons

Breeding a Better Moon and Stars

Moon and Stars Watermelon is one of those Seed Savers Exchange success stories.  There are quite a few of them.  Varieties that were in commerce decades ago and then lost.  When it seemed that all that was left of a variety were the folks who remembered it existing at one time.  Desperately seeking Moon and Stars, a melon last listed in seed catalogs in the 1930's and thought extinct, members of the Seed Savers Exchange searched almost from the beginning of that organization. In 1980 Merle Van Doren, a melon farmer near Macon, Missouri contacted Kent Whealy, director of SSE to tell him that he was still raising the melon.  Van Doren said that it had been brought from Tennessee.  The roundish, medium sized, dark green fruits are sometimes slightly ribbed with the signature small yellow “stars” that dot the surface and often a much larger yellow "moon". 

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Although, I was told by a commercial melon breeder in the 1980's that the "moon and stars" trait was caused by a virus that infects the seed, it is actually caused by a gene, the "Sp" gene,  which is the source of the yellow spotting.  The "Sp" gene is dominant and when the pollen "flies" in a melon patch with Moon and Stars, other melons nearby who receive the pollen will inherit the trait and pass it on to the following generation.  There really isn't much of a need to get up close and pollinate the small watermelon flowers if you want to breed the trait into a new population.   One only has to grow the first generation hybrids and look for the moon and stars trait.  It shows up early and often the seed leaves (cotyledons) will have a yellow dot or two; the true leaves that follow are even more prominently marked.  There are many variations of Moon and Stars.  I've been lamenting the loss of a variant of Moon and Stars from the late 1980's.  A melon collector named Curtis Slyvester Showell sent me seed of "Japanese Moon and Stars".  It was a beautiful little dark green round ice box melon.  Unlike Moon and Stars,  the flesh was fine-grained and deep red instead of coarse and pink.  It was also a long keeper that held up well instead of becoming mealy. 

Moon and Stars has some flaws, who doesn't;  but it is a very sweet and attractive melon that is indeed a national treasure.

"Icebox" Melons

"Icebox" Melons

Why mess with Moon and Stars?  It's a compulsion of mine.  Lets try for a better Moon and Stars.  Many years ago I grew Moon and Stars the same year I grew really nice hybrid called You Sweet Thing, which was a delightfully sweet melon, an early ripening beauty.  Having nothing else to cross, this was a match of necessity.  Oddly, one of the main factors that control a breeding project happens to be what you have growing in the field at the same time.  It's only in recent years that I will actually give some thought to the parents I need to grow for a particular cross before I plant (most of the time).  The progeny of"You Sweet Thing x Moon and Stars" were all early small melons with stripes and light green rind like You Sweet Thing and the yellow stars of Moon and Stars.  Unfortunately, not as dramatic or as beautiful as the originals.  I've learned that it is important to grow dark colored melons where the "Sp" genetics will show up more readily.

This year I grew more than a half dozen kinds of acclaimed dark green early round "icebox" type melons; any one of which would be nice to pass the moon and star trait to along with the Van Doren Moon and Stars.  I wasn't concerned that they differed in flesh color(red, pink or yellow flesh) but I did want to use only small seeded kinds since one of Moon and Stars characteristics (not a good one in my opinion) are the many large seeds it produces.  Of all the resulting melons of this mass cross, we have already made some initial selection based on flesh quality.  It happened late summer as we were saving the melon seed and conducting the mandatory taste testing that goes along with the job.  The next step is when we plant the seed and screen the seedlings for the moon and star trait.  Yes, our project distributes the seed to breeders if you too would like to work on this kind of project.

Breeding a Muskaloupe

Melon #1

Melon #1

Melon #2

Melon #2

Melon #2

Part of the Organic Seed Project, Cornell released this cross between Charentais, a french gourmet melon and Golden Gopher to NOFA-NY to distribute to interested organic farmers that are willing to do some of the selection work and therefore create a variety adapted to organic culture systems. A really good idea, I might add. Golden Gopher was chosen as the male pollinator in the cross (it's listed after Charentais- the female parent always goes first). Golden Gopher, for those of you who do not read CR Lawn's excellent variety descriptions in the Fedco Seed Catalog is the hero of New England organic farmers who strive to produce a fine-tasting melon in spite of an unforgiving climate. Maine, I am told by my NOFA friends who farm there, is not the melon capital of the world.

This is the second generation of siblings from the original cross and the diversity in the fruit is apparent less than 60 days from seeding. The vines are vigorous and productive and so far, the disease tolerance that the Cornell breeders have introduced into the cross by using a powdery mildew resistant line of Charentais looks like it might be working.

It's not unusual for us to experience fruit rot as the melons mature on the vine, so we'll be watching these carefully. Part of the selection process will be to cull those rot prone fruit or vines that begin to lose their vigor. It's interesting to note that while some fruit have a smooth gray skin and ribs (like a true European cantaloupe), others are well netted (like an American muskmelon) as these photos show. Most plants seem to be producing an intermediate type of fruit, with muskmelon and cantaloupe traits. Perhaps we should call it a muskaloupe?

The final test will come with the harvest. Disease resistance and early maturity are terrific characteristics but what about taste, fragrance and texture? These are all factors that will have to be taken into account during the selection process.

Melon #1

We harvested the melon #1 about 75 days after planting the seed. A nice round 2 1/2 - 3 lb melon about 8 or 9 inches across with moderate netting between the wide ribs. It ripened from gray to gold and slipped from the vine when I was examining it in the field. Solid, the exterior seems to be quite bruise resistant and it developed a wonderful fragrance. The interior is bright orange, thick fleshed down to the thin yellow rind. The flavor was acclaimed by the three of us who sampled it. Very sweet but with a fresh melon flavor, more charentais than musky, soft melting texture with juice that just dripped from your chin. My son said, "it was the perfect melon."

The second melon was the smallest of 3 that slipped from the vines two days later. The round melon had mottled dark green hard exterior with more corky netting than the others. Bright orange flesh and a very small seed cavity, green rind. Visitors that sampled the melon thought it was fine. I thought that it wasn't as sweet as #1, had a bit more muskiness and I found the flesh firm but pleasant.

Melon: Charentais x Golden Gopher Cornell Cross NY04-213-5C:

Ripe melons in the field

The Power of Selection

You might note that with some of the breeding work we do here at Flanders Bay Farm involve routine hand pollinations. If you think that hand pollination is necessary to be an effective plant breeder though, think again.

Selection is essentially a process where you determine which plants are producing the product of greatest value in your estimation under your growing system and in your micro-climate. It's like an accelerated evolution where not only does nature participate in the selection process, you also have a say; in this case, which melon is the fittest. From which fruit will seed be saved from to be planted the next year. Like a ruthless god, you should smite the inferior melons so they will not beget another generation and nurture the one's that please you.

It doesn't stop there though because you're going to do the same selection in your field next year. Soon, you'll be growing a melon that actually is adapted to your farm or garden (that's nature's part) and your personal preferences for a truly great melon (that's your part). Oh, the power!

Yellow Skin Watermelon

Originally published on liseed.org June 2007

goldskin.jpg

The surprise melon of 2005 for us was a very nice golden rind variety from Asia sold as Yellow Jubilee (available from Dimension Trade Company, Scappoose, OR). It was the earliest to produce fruit and we found smaller, later fruits that we didn't harvest stayed in good shape in the field for considerable time.   I suspect that the genetics are similar to the 1991 AAS Winner, "Golden Crown" developed by the Taiwan based Known-You Seed Co. which produces a similar sized early, very sweet melon.  Most yellow skin watermelons start out green and change to their golden color as they ripen.  This "ripeness indicator" is a trait that is often promoted by seed vendors selling "Golden Crown".  

Yellow Jubilee (appears to be a variety produced by Long Hoang Gia Seed) is curious as it starts out completely yellow unless the plants are stressed.  No ripeness indicator?  I prefer to thump the melon listening for hollowness and look for the drying of the tendril next to the fruit stem in order to determine ripeness. 

In both 2006 and 2007 we grew the seed of the second and third generations of seeds saved from Yellow Jubilee.  There is quite a bit of variation in seed characteristics (size, color and pattern) indicating that indeed, as presumed, Yellow Jubilee was a F1 hybrid.  Below you can see variations in fruit and plant also very apparent in recent generations.  The fruit, instead of starting out completely yellow, can be mottled green and yellow to entirely green turning yellow at maturity or remaining green.  Some interesting genetics.  Many of the plants show the characteristic chlorotic condition of yellow skinned watermelons.  Stems and leaves have a definite yellow look as chlorophyll fails to be produced in the cells adjacent to veins.  This is not a nutrient deficiency but instead is genetically linked to the yellow skin characteristic.

yellvs.jpg

The green skin F3 generation melons show normal leaf characteristics. 

The yellow skin watermelons get their characteristic from a single recessive "go" gene named by Cornell breeder, Dick Robinson, for Royal Golden, an heirloom melon he studied the genetics of 25 years ago.  Just why some yellow skinned watermelons start out yellow while others turn from pure green to yellow is a matter of how the "go" gene is expressed and the intermediate yellow and green immature fruit of the F3 generation of Yellow Jubilee may provide a clue in how the gene is expressed.  It doesn't help that water stress and other environmental factors can cause some variability in gene expression.  This year we're backcrossing some of the yellow skin F2's with the original F1 to increase the expression of immature yellow skin fruit.

Royal Golden, source of the "go" gene, is a large melon looking a lot like a pumpkin when it ripens from green to orange is still available through some small seed companies that preserve the older varieties.  I don't know if it is the same cultivar as Pumpkin Rind (which I haven't grown).  I suspect that it is very similar.  Pumpkin Rind is mentioned as the yellow skinned parent of another melon still seen in commerce, Golden Midget which was developed in the late 1950's at the University of New Hampshire by Elwyn Meader and Albert Yeager.  Golden Midget gets it's better qualities from New Hampshire Midget, a small, early sweet melon which is green skinned.