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Watermelon mixed seed project

 
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I've recently acquired a batch of more than 200 watermelon seeds containing a mixture of unknown varieties, sizes, various flesh colors, etc.  I'm working through my plan for growing them out, and the theory that will be my "reasons" for keeping seed from the offspring.  Since I don't know exactly how old the seed is, I plan to do indoor germination on a heat mat to help things along when growing out this original seed.  It may take a few years to get through growing out all of this initial seed (if I can't borrow some growing space), but once that is done, the future generations will be direct sown for further natural culling.  So, the question is now, what to select for amongst all this variety?

-The germination process will cull the first round of weak seed, then plant health and vigor will be the next determining factor in selection.
-Flesh color doesn't matter to me in this batch of seed, because I'm actually curious what the various crosses will produce (red, pink, yellow, pale yellow, white, orange).
-Melon size isn't very important to me at this stage, but overall productivity is.  I'm thinking more melons per vine equates to easier pollinating varieties, which is a positive genetic trait to me.
-Rind color doesn't matter to me.
-Good watermelon flavor must be there to stay in the mix, not only sweetness.

-Because of the variability of these results, this is intended to be a fun project/ personal-use locally adapted variety.  I'm thinking after many generations of selection for my desired traits, within the constraints of my landscape, I should arrive at a near maintenance-free, very sweet, direct-sown, disease and pest resistant watermelon...at least that's the best case scenario.  Worst case, I taste test all the watermelon I can stand, which is still a good outcome.

Does anyone see anything else I'm missing with regard to choosing my future seed?  

Am I correct in my understanding that all seeds within a melon will be fertilized from a single male flower (meaning I don't have to keep every seed from each good melon), or can they be fertilized by multiple pollen grains/male flowers from different plants?  I mean since it's not like corn that can have pollen from a hundred male plants fertilize the ear?  I know that bees or other pollinators will carry pollen from multiple donors, but is it necessary to keep all of the seeds from the melon because they may contain different fathers/genetic material?  



 
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I don't know anything about watermelon pollination but it sounds like a fun experiment.  Where did you get such a wide mix of seeds?

In my experience, my watermelon seed germination rate drops a lot after the first year which makes it hard for me to save seeds since in my climate I don't always get ripe fruit, let alone viable seeds every year. I'll enjoy seeing what happens with your experiment since it's not really one I can do myself!
 
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Every seed in a fruit has the same mother.
Every seed in a fruit might have a different pollen donor.

I find that the ecosystem does 80% of the selection.
 
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Watermelons are my weakness. Any time I look at seed catalogs with them, I think "gotta try them all!" and then have the hardest time narrowing them down. Your experiment would be a dream come true for me.

Other factors you may want to choose seed for:
-- Thickness of rind - there are pros and cons to thick vs thin.
-- Earliest producers
-- Vigor of plant and production during extreme weather - cool, hot, dry, sopping wet

Since you want to ultimately direct sow, if I had this opportunity, I would consider winter sowing (planting the seeds in clear jugs or bottles outside, frequently before the last frost. They sprout when temperatures are right). The jugs protect the seeds from insects and critters but aren't fully coddled. It could give you a head start on seeing which seeds are suited best for your weather.
 
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Is there any reason you won't be trying to select for ease-of-growth?
Personally, I would direct sow and see what happens. Those plants that survive and produce fruit by the time frost hits are winners, and require much less babying and work on your side.

I'm gardening in a new region this year and have direct sown most of my melons (testing 5 varieties) to see what happens. So far the direct sown melons are doing a lot better than the transplanted starts, despite several weeks of a head start.
 
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I like a melon that is tasty without being too sweet and holds plenty of water. We make a nice watermelon drink here, blend it with ice and maybe a bit a sugar, or lemon, or even sun tea depending on your taste and enjoy on a hot day.
 
Cy Cobb
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Jenny
- I bought the seeds from Amazon.  It was a lot of 200 for about $10, so not much invested in this gamble.  The couple reviews weren't great, but to me that wasn't enough to deter me.  I figure if I germinate them on a heat mat & grow light setup a month or so before planting, I'll have the best shot at germinating.  

Joseph
- Thanks.  I wasn't 100% sure, but thought I'd ask.  I've learned from my sweet corn projects, that there is a lot of seed produced and only so much can be planted.  I've read various studies about trait dominance in watermelons, and for the most part, lighter flesh is dominant over darker flesh, darker rind over lighter rind, & darker seeds over lighter seeds.  Of course there exceptions, and certain things affect other things, but in this batch, I'm not really interested in exact science, only good growing, good tasting, good producing watermelons.  I recall reading somewhere that you had a landrace watermelon project at one time, but I don't remember how it turned out.  I'm not in an extreme micro-climate, so my selection will firstly be environmental, then based on personal taste really.  In your mixture of varieties, did you notice a dominant type or flesh color over time, or was it always a random surprise when you cut into the melon?

Nikki
- I know what you mean!  I'm that way with Sweet corn, Watermelon, and cantaloupes.  I suppose I just love full flavored sweet fruits.  Thanks for the ideas, I did consider rind thickness, but then I thought about "What do I actually like in a melon when I cut into it?"  I know that thicker rinds are better for transporting them to market, but my personal needs don't require that.  I know when I cut into a cantaloupe for example, I'm impressed then the edible (palatable) meat of the melon gets as close to the rind as possible, giving me more melon to eat.  On the other hand, perhaps a thicker rind will help prevent bug damage, and offer a longer storage life?  If that's the case, a thicker rind would definitely be worthwhile.  My original thought was "As long as they don't explode, I'm good with it."  Now I think I've decided to look for a suitably thick rind!  
- I'll add "early producers" to my selection influence, that way when I begin direct seeding at the right soil temps, I will actually get mature melons in time.
- I grouped the plant vigor & harsh weather conditions under "plant health & vigor", which will be the 2nd natural/personal culling/selection criteria after germination.

Simon
-While these seeds were well cleaned and sealed in an air tight plastic bag, I don't know the exact age of this seed, or the temperature it was stored in.  I'm planning to give the seeds their best shot at germinating under ideal conditions to start with the most genetic material in this 1st generation.  I suspect I'll have a fair number of seeds that will fail to germinate, so I am planning to start more than I need to grow so that I have sufficient transplants to start next season.
-"Ease of growth" is definitely a consideration, but will occur in the "direct sown" 2nd generation since I'll know the age of the seed, the conditions it was stored in, and have selected traits from the first generation to gradually "steer" toward what I want to produce, or away from what I don't.  In the end, I'd like to plant seed before a rain and let it go until harvest.  I'm currently growing 20 watermelon plants that were direct sown, and do prefer this method.  I'm just trying to capture the most from the 1st generation seed.

Melissa
-I always enjoy the first smell and the first bite of a freshly cut into melon of any variety.  I will have one of three thoughts after that; Wow, that's a good melon, it's average, or it's underwhelming.  I am targeting the first one as often as I can.  I will have to look into more ways to enjoy watermelons like drinks and tea.  As it stands, I eat about one melon of some variety every other week throughout the summer.  Aside from simply enjoying them as-is, I'm also gaining an education on what I do or don't like in a melon.  It's an evolution of understanding of sorts.  Thanks for the inspiration.

Note: I bought these seeds out of curiosity to see what I could get out of them.  It was the most genetic material in the lot size I wanted to experiment with.  The unknown varieties keep me honest in selecting for traits rather than trying to fit my expectations to known types.  If I ever wanted to add known types, I can, but I just wanted to see where this material gets me first.  If this doesn't work out, I'm not out much, but if it does, I'll have learned something useful to me.
 
Cy Cobb
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Nikki Roche wrote:Since you want to ultimately direct sow, if I had this opportunity, I would consider winter sowing (planting the seeds in clear jugs or bottles outside, frequently before the last frost. They sprout when temperatures are right). The jugs protect the seeds from insects and critters but aren't fully coddled. It could give you a head start on seeing which seeds are suited best for your weather.



Nikki,
I was revisiting these suggestions, and was curious about the jug method you described above.  I've seen people cut the bottom off a clear 2-liter soda bottle & place it over transplanted seedlings before.  I assumed this was like a mini-greenhouse, and that the cap should be left off.  Is this the method you are talking about, just placed over seeds?  
 
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I had heard that watermelon varieties don't cross easily, but in my garden that is not the case. I mixed the fabled Bradford watermelon with Ali Baba and got hybrids on the first try. Alibaba have light rinds and dark seeds. Bradford have dark rinds and white seeds. I grew seeds taken from the ali baba and grew them out. Some of the offspring had dark rinds and dark seeds. Some came out with white seeds. It was an obvious hybrid of the 2 varieties. They tasted fantastic.
If you haven't tried baker creeks Kaho orange mini melons... you are missing out.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I liked the yellow fleshed watermelons better, therefore I deliberately selected for that color.

Tomatoes get their red coloration from lycopene, which is bitter. The yellow melons without lycopene could have lower sugar content, and still taste sweeter, because they didn't have to have extra sugar to counteract the bitterness.
watermelon-2011-09-09A.jpg
yellow fleshed watermelon
yellow fleshed watermelon
 
Cy Cobb
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Joseph,

Was your watermelon landrace project all yellow fleshed varieties?  I recall seeing somewhere that you had a watermelon project, but wasn't sure how it turned out for you.

 
Cy Cobb
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I'm learning first hand now about what Joseph Lofthouse meant regarding the environment doing 80% of your selection for you.  

I haven't even started with the 200 pack of mixed seeds since that's slated for next year.  However, I did start with Black Diamond, Crimson Sweet, & Sugar Baby watermelon varieties from seed about halfway through the season to get my feet wet.  The first few attempts I made were dug up by mice/voles, and the ones that did sprout were quickly eaten by birds or rodents.  I ended up with 20 plants total that stayed alive & healthy...for awhile.  I've had some get stunted from insufficient sunlight, one contracted downy mildew from being in a wet area (I ended up removing to keep it from spreading, which worked).  A few that started strong, but then began to compete for nutrients I think (planted in hills that were too small in cross section).  Some were growing beautifully until I decided to prune the vines in an effort to focus on one melon per plant.  While this was not necessarily a bad thing, I feel that the melons would be larger if I'd left the vines/leaves as they would have had more photosynthesis.  Now, the night temps are cooling off as summer nears its end.  We are still around 80 during the day, but little rain to be had for weeks (I do water occasionally).  A few of the formerly better growing vines have basically dried up, leaving the immature melons to rot.  A new rust-like fungus has started on the leaves of a few of the ones with poorer airflow (crowded) which makes me think it's only a matter of time before those plants die.  I've noticed the occasional white caterpillars eating leaves, as well as squash bugs and other 6 legged unwelcome dinner guests.  At this point the melons are around cantaloupe size, maybe a bit larger on some, smaller on others.  I know sugar baby's are smaller anyway, but we'll see what happens.  I knew it was a gamble anyway, but there are still 4 plants that are still going strong with no threats of decline yet (20%).  I've learned much in this first trial to better prepare for next time.  I will of course save any seeds that I might get from the healthy survivors, and implement changes next year based on what I've learned this year.

Note:  I've not treated any of these plants with fungicides or anything else.  I read that most watermelon growers will spray them weekly or so once fruit sets since they are so susceptible to fungus.  As with corn, I'm not interested in spraying to get perfect results.  Instead, I'm attempting to get natural resistance to threats by carrying on reproduced surviving seed.  
 
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This might be nuts but I always wished someone would develop a watermelon that doesn't have many seeds, but still has great flavor and is open pollinated. I've always lived in the north so can't grow them anyway, but am moving south this year, so I might take it on if no one else wants to! (or has already). But you, my friend, would have a great start already with that genetic diversity.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Cy Cobb wrote:Was your watermelon landrace project all yellow fleshed varieties?  I recall seeing somewhere that you had a watermelon project, but wasn't sure how it turned out for you.



It started out mostly red-fleshed. But yellow-fleshed tastes sweeter to me, so the population moves towards yellow.
 
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For many years I grew bush type sugar baby melons. I liked them fine and in my small space the compact growth was a big plus. Really my only gripe with them was they were not all that productive. Several years ago, I decided to mix it up some and got some seeds from Joseph and some from a grower in Canada.

I never even knew before then that watermelons come in colors other than red. Now I get red, pink, yellow, orange and sometimes two-tone. Once in a while an almost white one shows up. First time I saw one of those I though yuck, but it was really good. The yellow ones might be a bit better as a rule, but I like them all.  

They went all haywire as far as growth habit, say so long to the bushy type, but I select for smaller fruits and am making some progress in adapting them to grow on a trellis. That's going to take a while as a great big one still occasionally tries to sneak in.

Seems to me that the best ones tend to have smaller, darker colored seeds. Does anyone else notice that?

 
Cy Cobb
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Thanks Mark for sharing your watermelon experience.  That is a very interesting mix!  I wonder how many varieties & generations got you to those results?

I do have some bush sugar baby seeds, but haven't tried the bush version yet.  The regular sugar baby vines are still shorter than the other varieties I'm growing.

I think you're headed in a good direction with your line.  Do you get a lot of variation in rind color or pattern?  How much do you offer supplemental water?  I'm thinking with an earlier planting rather than a mid-season planting, spring rains should cover most of my water needs, but I worry about fungal issues in anything but hot dry weather.

As far as seeds, the only thing I've read about is that the commercial growers of seedless watermelon prefer a pollinator with small seeds because the white infertile pips of the seedless melon will be smaller then.

I'm considering trying another bush type as well called Cal Sweet I think?  Supposed to be a good watermelon & does well in small spaces.

 
Mark Reed
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Cy Cobb wrote:Thanks Mark for sharing your watermelon experience.  That is a very interesting mix!  I wonder how many varieties & generations got you to those results?


Goodness knows, the lady in Canada had been breeding hers for a long time and I think the first orange ones I saw probably came from here. There's no telling how many different ones Joseph threw in his. Either my climate is more friendly to melons than theirs are or they both like really big melons. Second or third year I had one close to forty pounds; We can't eat that much watermelon all at once, well, I reckon that's not true, because we did.

Cy Cobb wrote:I think you're headed in a good direction with your line.  Do you get a lot of variation in rind color or pattern?  How much do you offer supplemental water?  I'm thinking with an earlier planting rather than a mid-season planting, spring rains should cover most of my water needs, but I worry about fungal issues in anything but hot dry weather.



O, yes there is lots of variation in the rind, some are almost grey with little pattern, some are very dark green with yellow streaks, some are all yellow and lots of other variations. Shapes vary too, some oblong, some round. I don't care what they look like I select for good flavor and weighing less that 10 pounds, I prefer less than that but ya can't always get what ya want. Ideally, they would be just like they are now as far as flavors and colors but make lots of little 2 or 3 ponders.

I don't water them at all. I used to but I discovered even if the leaves mostly die from heat and drought the melons are still good, maybe even better.
 
Cy Cobb
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Thanks for the info Mark!  It seems that I underestimated the effects that many squash bugs can have on my watermelons.  I found out that my neighboring plot had pumpkins that got devastated by them, & once they killed off the pumpkins, they came over to my watermelons in force.  I've been killing all I can find, but they've learned to hide in the mulch debris.  I know you have to get in front of the eggs hatching, but my watermelons are about done anyway I think.  I noticed the squash bugs eating on the rind, and once I cleared them out, the ants moved in on the wound.  I've learned a lot on this trial watermelon growing experience that I'll benefit from next season for hopefully better results.  I still got melons, just not as large as they could have been.  Now to keep the bugs at bay until ripening.

I wonder if I'd left the vines their full length with a few smaller melons on them, if they would be able to handle the squash bugs better/longer?  I know the smaller melons would likely be sacrificed/aborted when the attack starts, but with more vine length/melons/sap to focus on, maybe the larger watermelons would make it to maturity by the time the bugs killed the plant?
 
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Bethany Dutch wrote:This might be nuts but I always wished someone would develop a watermelon that doesn't have many seeds, but still has great flavor and is open pollinated. I've always lived in the north so can't grow them anyway, but am moving south this year, so I might take it on if no one else wants to! (or has already). But you, my friend, would have a great start already with that genetic diversity.



Here's a reason to not mind having lots of seeds in your watermelon:

I only recently learned that people roast and eat watermelon seeds. You can also sprout them to eat them. And use them for oil.

I haven't tried it but it sounds interesting.

Has anyone tried it?
 
Cy Cobb
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Well folks, I'm not sure where I left off last, but here's an update for anyone following along.  

2022 season:  I planted my watermelon seeds late, but according to the packets, just in time to get a full season harvest.  However, between the birds, rodents, & squash bugs I was only able to get a handful of viable seed from the 8 or 9 watermelons that weren't fully mature enough to eat, but still had some good black seeds inside.  This crop consisted of Sugar Baby, Crimson Sweet, & Black Diamond.

2023 season:  This year I started new seed varieties indoors to focus on actually harvesting watermelons, and to hopefully have strong enough plants to survive the squash bugs when they eventually come around.  I didn't use a heat pad or lamp & self-eliminated anything that didn't germinate well.  I ended up with good strong transplants of 5 different varieties, which are now in the ground.  I do have 2 varieties of red fleshed watermelon, 2 varieties of yellow flesh, & an orange fleshed variety.  I'll again be saving all the cross pollinated seeds that I get, & incorporate them into my mix for future plantings.  I've got a lot of original seed of many varieties now, and will continue to add new variety combinations each year.  My plan has adjusted a bit from the original (as they all do), but the goal is still the same; eat lots of good watermelon & allow them to cross pollinate freely for stronger saved seed.

I'm still on the hunt for any watermelon variety seeds that I don't yet have, so this mix should get more diverse with each generation.
 
Cy Cobb
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Update:  All 15 of my watermelon transplants are still alive & well, though I fear they may have been a bit stunted.  As a comparison of this theory, I added in some Sugar Baby "Bush" seeds to the plot.  The hope is to see how the direct seeded plants fare compared to the transplants.  I'm thinking the direct seeded plants will grow faster without the root space restrictions & sub-par light that the transplants originally had to survive through.  Any pollen exchange is welcome, and any seeds produced from the transplants have already been selected for 70 degree germination (had several culls that didn't germinate well at that temp, or germinated then had development issues & were culled).  I will say this though, that any fruit/seeds I get off the transplants will be worthy "survivor" seed due to the stressed/drought growing conditions this year.

Observation:  I have 10 volunteer squash plants that survived the winter as seeds, sprouted naturally, and are flourishing.  I may attempt fall/winter sowing watermelon if I ever get enough seeds to risk losing most of them to rodents.  

I've had volunteer cantaloupe & squash now that have survived winter, and sprouted when ready, but has anyone tried winter sowing watermelon?
 
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