Success with Watermelon Landrace in Colorado

EDIT 1-29-16: This post is probably more accurately referred to as a “proto-landrace” or a pre-landrace. This post was from 2011, but even though it was my first attempt at starting my own watermelon landrace i still feel it was a moderate success. I hope to update you with how my watermelon landrace has progressed in the 2016 season. It is starting to do really well and selection pressures have occurred that i feel it can truly be called a landrace at this point and even perhaps the beginning of a variety if selected even further. Better than any commercial variety of watermelon by far!

I’m pleased to announce that my watermelon proto-landrace experiment seems to have been a moderate success so far, and here in Northern Colorado no less!

Northern Colorado isn’t exactly known for having a climate that is hospitable to growing watermelons. In fact, I’ve tried planting and growing watermelons at least three times before, each time ended in a miserable failure. This year was different though in part by my determination to succeed and the landrace method i recently discovered. A landrace is basically a mix of a bunch of seeds with lots of genetic variability. That variability makes it easier to locate a variety that is already at least partially adapted to my climate. While some (or many) varieties in a landrace die off immediately, some usually survive. And the theory is that by selecting only the best ones year after year, we eventually get something that is really good. Much of my inspiration for this project has come from Joseph Lofthouse who has had success with a cantaloupe landrace in utah, the breeding work being done by Rebsie Fairholm in the U.K., and indirectly Carol Depp who i believe inspired the two people i just mentioned. When used modernly and deliberately some people refer to it as “evolutionary breeding”.

This is where my experiment with this idea comes into play. I’ve always liked eating watermelon, but the common belief here in Colorado is that they are hard to grow (if not impossible). There is at least some merit in that belief. I myself have failed previously on three separate occasions to cultivate Mark Twain’s angelic food. The biggest problem was that i never used the right varieties. In a sense i guess you could say that the landrace method is basically a shotgun approach. When in doubt, shoot everything!

And while this is only the first year i have attempted this project, i feel the results so far have been extremely encouraging. This is the first year i have ever gotten any ripe watermelons, which in itself is a milestone. I got dozens of them. Many of them were tiny though, like baseball tiny. Some of those tiny ones actually ripened though, and a few tasted really good. I also got some that were of decent size too. I tried my best to select varieties that were mainly Northern, Native American, and short season varieties. My hope was that some might already be adapted to the temperature requirements, some adapted to the soil, pests, etc, and they would be able to cross pollinate with each other, so i could eventually select for one that has all the best traits.

Even with this criteria probably a third of them did not ripen properly, and went directly into the compost pile. But, i was able to harvest a few really good ones, and few OK ones as well. Something that was interesting though was that many of the early ones to ripen were yellow-fleshed watermelons. I had included some seeds from a few that were supposed to be yellow, and i had heard myths of yellow watermelons, but i didn’t really think i would actually be able to grow my own. The first yellow i ate was probably the best watermelon i’ve ever tasted. I didn’t know the yellow ones tasted better than the red ones! I’ve found out that there might actually be three different shades of yellow watermelons, and i think i saw all three this year. What’s remarkable though is that one of the yellow types is a dominant trait, while one is a recessive trait.  How crazy is that! I suspect that the yellow ones might be able to ripen better here in my climate than many of the red ones, but maybe it was just a coincidence. only time will tell.

Anyway, yeah. This whole landrace breeding is pretty darn awesome! I hope to continue selecting the best of the best, and maybe eventually i will have my own special variety that grows vigorously here in Northern Colorado. 🙂 If you’d like to see a few more pictures and details about this breeding project, then please visit my website at biolumo.com.

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2 thoughts on “Success with Watermelon Landrace in Colorado

  1. Sounds pretty exciting! I thought I would give you a few pointers on your watermelon breeding experiment. First, I have a video about breeding cucurbits if it is of any use to you:
    http://www.biofortified.org/2009/03/how-to-breed-cucurbits/

    I’m not sure how in particular you are setting up your crosses between your melons, but one thing I would suggest is to take the varieties that seem to be best adapted to your area, and cross them with some really good tasting melons that you like. Then take the seeds from each cross and plant them each year, self-pollinating the ones that appear to have the best combinations of traits that you are looking for from both of the parents. From what I understand of watermelons, there isn’t inbreeding depression, so given enough plants, after a couple generations you could find one that is both locally-adapted and tastes good.

  2. Søren in Denmark has been working on a melon mix Tim Peters made for us some years ago.

    http://toads.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/melon-miracle/
    http://toads.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/todays-melon-harvest/

    There are some other posts, and he’s also been working on watermelons as a seporate project.

    Tim Peters mix in particular is a great example of how plant breeders in one place can help out those in another. Tim lived far enough south that growing melons wasn’t a problem for him, he collected as many northern hardy varieties as he could find and crossed them all together. Now Søren who lives too far north for most melons is able to grow and select from the mix he wouldn’t have been able to create himself.

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