My watermelon landrace

Exciting times! This year will be the second year of my watermelon landrace project. But in some ways it will be my first year really, because last year I used a very small gene pool. So, this is where I am at so far:

My location and climate:
I live north of Barcelona (Spain). Mediterranean climate. Very hot and bone-dry summers. Practically no rain between May and September.

My goal:
Delicious watermelons that can be grown with minimal or no irrigation and are at least as big as my two fists put together.

Last year (2022): I planted about 10 plants (8 direct seeded, 2 plugs) on native soil in which I also buried some kitchen scraps (using the “melon pit” method described here: Melon pits!!! | The Survival Gardener). The varieties I had were crimson sweet and a few local Catalan varieties. I weeded them very little and gave them some water during the brutal drought. I got approximately 10 very small fruits. The largest one was approximately 20 cm in diameter and delicious. All of them were tasty, but some too small. I saved seeds from all of them anyway.


Plans for this year (2023): I have my seeds from last year but also a lot of new seeds from different sources (some bought, some given, some traditional Catalan varieties I got from germplasm banks, some from watermelons I bought, ate and loved). All in all I have approximately 40 different types.

For the ones I have very few seeds (like those from germplasm banks or bought packets), I am going to start some in a tray as well as direct-seed some. The rest are all going to be direct seeded (planting in trays is just a crutch for this year).

I am really curious to see how they do this year and I plan to update this thread to show how the project advances.

There is one thing I am still not sure about (even after reading @Joseph_Lofthouse 's book): how many seeds and from which plants to replant the following year. I have room for 40 plants or so. Saving seeds last year was easy because I had only 10 fruits. So, I saved them in individual packets. Is it wise to plant an equal number of seeds from the different fruits during the first couple of years? If I just put all my seeds from one year together in a jar, I think I run the risk of skewing the population too much too quickly (towards the individual that happened to have been successful in that particular year).

All sorts of inputs are appreciated!

Cheers

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I don’t just indiscriminately mix all of my seeds. I pick out my favorite one, or two or three and plant about 50% from them and 50% from a mix of the others. If there was a particularly bad one, I cull it immediately.

I think climate and how friendly it is to a particular crop is a big factor. Most any old watermelon will grow in my climate so no need to keep poor performers or subpar flavor in my mix. If I was working with something less adapted to my climate, I might keep anything that successfully matured seeds.

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Thanks for the response, Mark!

I think I will take your approach about the % of seeds from next year on.

I think I live in an OK watermelon climate (although no watermelons are commercially produced here). The people who do grow them seem to baby them a lot (weeding, fertilising, watering). I would like watermelons that can take a bit of neglect, thus trying to landrace them :slight_smile:

I grew an inbred watermelon called Sugar Baby for a very long time and then added in its bush form and selected for the bushy growth habit. I’ve heard lots of criticism of this variety, but I liked it quite a lot. When I started my landrace watermelons, I got seeds from Joseph and some from a friend in Canada.

In the first year I planted my Sugar Baby in marked spots surrounded by all of the others. All kinds of things showed up, some were way too big, some didn’t taste very good but some, especially the yellow ones were wonderful. The next year I planted about 50% from the Sugar Baby and 50% from just two or three of the best of the others. All the rest I discarded but of course their pollen had likely contributed to the seeds I kept, which was fine.

I saved and still have seed of my old Sugar Baby, just in case I decided to go back to growing just it but haven’t done so and don’t expect too. I haven’t recovered the bush growth habit but now have a wonderful mix up of colors with consistently wonderful flavor. I don’t baby them or water them and don’t mind if the fruits are small, in fact I select for small fruits. I don’t plant seed from anything over ten pounds and prefer the five-to-ten-pound range although I wouldn’t mind even smaller. I think bunches of little melons instead of a few big ones would be really cool.

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Cool! This is very encouraging to me. Can I ask what your summers are like in terms of rain?

Only keep seeds from tasty fruits that meet your goals. If pest pressure is important then either cull bug ridden plants or mark them so you don’t keep seeds from them.

If there is alot of seeds you can keep them separated by plant/fruit whatever and do what Joseph does with the beans. Take equal amounts of each so they have the same odds for next year. If you do something like this you can also dump the rest of the separate seed together as backup like “watermelon 2023 season, all tasty melons”.

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Watermelons were initially a desert crop. They are still planted in the wadis in the middle east before the spring floods and grow without other inputs.

At my old house, I grew mine in almost straight sand under deep woodchip mulch, and they survived and fruited without additional water. I gave them a gallon when I stuck the seeds in the ground. Like your current environment, hot and dry with very little rain between May and September. Watermelons were one of the crops that thrived.

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That is soooo encouraging! Thanks!

By the way, did you use your own seed or did you have varieties that performed particularly well in those conditions?

I favour Mark’s suggestion of sowing a good percentage of your favourites from last season and make up the rest from new varieties. I wouldn’t be too quick to cull in the first year or two. I’m also starting a watermelon landrace (very different climate) but had only a handful of varieties this season (I’m in the southern hemisphere) and of those only two have fruited. If they ripen they will be the start.
Looking forward to following your landrace progress here.

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All varieties that grew fruited. The best were Ali Baba, Jubilee, Hopi Red, and the unknown variety I’ve been growing there for 30 years. Other watermelons were planted without woodchips, watered once a week, and did about the same. Sugar Baby grew but didn’t fruit until late in the season.

All were my own saved seeds after growing successfully in the garden at least one year.

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I’m also “just” starting watermelon landrace. Just in brackets because it’s going to be 3-4 year for many, but it feels like this year it really gets going because I have enough seeds to direct seed and some confidence that they will produce viable seeds. I’m in southern Finland so not quite watermelon growing country. This year I’m also adding some more varieties. I think I might have around 30 varieties in the mix after this year. My first goal has been to try and make sure they cross as much and I haven’t discarded that many so far. Now most I have grown for several years so most should be crosses, many 4 or 8 way (although there might be some dublicates in ancestry). So it’s likely that all varietes have contributed atleast some to the mix. I will do the same with new varieties for couple years and after that have similar plan to @MarkReed. I have saved individually and made notes on traits. Better ones I will give more space, sow lower densities and use also coming years. Those not bad enought to be discarded I will mix, sow denser and cull harder. I also try to pay attention to seediness so that seedier don’t have an advantage.

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I probably culled more than half of those planted the very first year. There were a couple that matured really fast but flavor wise forgot to put any melon in with the water, although I like the fast maturity no seeds were saved. A few didn’t seem to like it here and didn’t take off growing, I dumped them before they bloomed. A couple more got all yellow, with tons of tiny holes in the leaves, I caught them before they bloomed too much too. Then there were the gigantic ones that tasted very fine, but I don’t want 40 pound watermelons, their pollen was distributed but I didn’t save any seeds. Several were over my preferred weight limit of ten pounds but grew and tasted so good I used them for probably 20% of the seeds in year two.

I guess about year four they were starting to fall in line with what I like, great flavor, diverse color and not too big. I still cull anything much over 10 pounds even if it is otherwise good. As a general rule it seems that those I like best have small dark colored seeds but that isn’t cut in stone and I don’t select on that. Once in a while a really good one has great big seeds and comparatively few of them, I kind of like that.

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My climate is different than yours, here in Ohio, but this is my varieties I’m doing this year…

Janosik watermelon, 80 day, yellow, ~10#
Clay County yellow meat, 90 day, yellow, 10-35#??
Leelanau sweetglo, 80 day, orange, 8-13#??
Early moonbeam, 80 day, yellow, 3-8#

I have lots of critters to contend with, weather that is either plenty of regular rain or three months of no real usable rain, and clay soil. So this first year I’m growing them in the garden, as many as I can squeeze in. We’ll see how they do. On paper watermelons do fine here so it’s not an impossible task. If they do well enough I’ll select some out based on flavor and size.
Tentative plan is to save seeds separated based on variety of the mother plant. I should have plenty of seed. Next year I will select like 5(?) of the best looking seed from each variety of saved seed to plant in the garden. No pampering but somewhat protected from critters. Then I’ll take like 2/3 of the rest of the seed and plant it out in a basically wild area to see what survives. After planting these I’ll only check back enough to make sure I can still find the patch to harvest them. I think this will make an interesting comparison but also if the wild patch fails I will have the garden grown ones still.

I don’t have any particulars in mind for them other than being as neglecting as possible and seeing what can hack it after direct seeding. Hopefully tasty and not all eaten by groundhogs is my first goal.

My daughter loves watermelons, and Utah is a great place for watermelons, so I plan to plant as many different kinds of watermelons as possible this year, and follow Lauren’s example in deep mulching and dry farming them all. If I can, I’ll see I can get them trellis up my wire fence! My hope is to do the same thing with my cantaloupes. And my delicata squashes. :wink:

Me too! @Lauren , could you give us a bit more detail about your method? In particular, I wonder:

  • How deep is the wood chip mulch?
  • How wide? Is it a 2 foot circle? 4 feet? Or is the entire area mulched?
  • What is underneath? (native soil, amended soil, a layer of manure…)
  • Any other info about your method that you consider relevant.

Cheers!

You might have seen it, but if not, I interviewed Lauren about her projects and there’s a lesson in the online course. It’s the second lesson in Chapter 4.

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I did a number of different things. For the most part, the woodchips were four to six inches deep and the whole area was woodchipped. The primary space for this was about four feet wide, bounded on one side by a street and a sidewalk on the other side. The second video is another area that I treated differently.

The soil under the woodchips was primarily sand.

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Thanks everyone for all the input! Hopefully I will eat a watermelon or two this summer.

By the way, the seeds went in the ground today! It was really liberating to plant them and wish them good luck without tracking variety names or attaching stories to each seed.

Fingers crossedl

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@arribaelverde Interesting that you start this early. Based on what I have googled about average temperatures in that area it sounds like atleast first month, month and half are quite similar temperatures than here during summer. If you like cold tolerance I might have something. Not sure about drought tolerance, but we have had couple dry summers and I dry to minimize what I water. At the start of the season ground usually has good amount of moisture that can last sometime so they aren’t stressed for water early in season. If you want to trial some more sometime let me know.

Hi Jesse,

It has started to warm up here and I wanted to start before all moisture in the soil disappears, hehe. Hopefully I didn’t start too early. If so, I get a second chance in a couple of weeks.

I am happy to share seeds with you and I am always very happy to receive seeds. But do you think it is worth it? Finland and Spain have massively different climates as far as I understand.