Delicious watermelons are growing even in the north

This juicy southern dainty is no more difficult to grow than our cucumbers, as evinced at a co-operative farm in Olgovskoye, near Vitebsk
By Olga Semenova

The Dvina Region’s ripe watermelons and sweet grapes have long been grown by amateur gardeners but are now enjoying ‘mass production’ over large areas, with unexpectedly good results.

Just a month and a half ago, Victor Korsak — the manager of Olgovskoye’s co-operative society — doubted the wisdom of growing watermelons. The future striped giants looked pale beside the hearty cucumbers but the weather in the most northern region was favourable this summer: hot and dry in the day, and no less than 16 degrees at night.

“We planted out our seedlings at the beginning of June and, for a long time, almost no growth was evident,” admits Victor. “Then, the plants became stronger and bloomed in the middle of July; their flowers were so delicate and small that it was difficult to imagine them becoming large fruits. The cucumbers, at that stage, looked much stronger.”

In the Vitebsk Region, one of the best-known varieties is ‘sugar baby’: a small watermelon, dark green in colour, with a thin skin and very sweet pulp, which is bright red. However, Olgovskoye chose the Turkish variety of ‘demre’.

“This mid-season variety has a high crop yield and is ideal for open soil,” notes Victor. “We grew our seedlings in a hothouse and, during the initial stage, we used spun-bond. We then looked after them in the same way as cucumbers and marrows. I admit that we were surprised that almost every flower yielded a large fruit: one weighed 9kg!”

One hundred square metres of watermelons can’t be called a plantation. However, it’s impressive: almost 150 light green striped fruit have grown — most weighing 5-7kg. More than half a tonne of melons are expected in total.

The Belarusian northern watermelons are yellow skinned and light pink inside, with black stones. Luscious tasting, it really is possible to receive good results at our latitude.

“We were convinced that watermelon farming is no whim; we can cultivate them as we do our existing tomatoes and cucumbers,” Mr. Korsak emphasises. “The crop is impressive in quality and quantity, so everyone can create a small miracle on their land. Certain varieties have quite good prospects on an industrial scale if our climate remains warm.”

About 20 years ago, attempts to grow peppers in Belarus caused a smile; now, they’re a common sight in our kitchen gardens. Quite possibly, we may soon see watermelons behind every fence and may prefer domestic Belarusian watermelons to those imported from abroad.
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