After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about pet care, science, travel, and gardening.
Sugar Baby Watermelons: Great for Small Yards
Sugar Baby watermelons are known as “icebox” watermelons because the melons are small enough to fit into a refrigerator. Gardeners in northern areas fare well with icebox watermelons because they mature in a relatively short period of time (often in 85–90 days), allowing the fruit to be harvested prior to the first frost. Sugar Baby watermelon vines produce a fruit that is approximately 6–10 pounds.
Sugar Babies produce less fruit on each vine than a traditional watermelon variety—each plant will produce one or two watermelons. The fruit is red, crisp, and very sweet and contains small black seeds.
If other watermelon varieties are grown next to the Sugar Baby watermelons, do not save the seeds for planting the following year. The resultant fruit will likely be a hybrid of the varieties you have grown. While some of the fruit will be good, some may turn out to be “pig melons” and not very tasty.
Planting the Seeds
These watermelon plants require less room than standard watermelon vines and can be grown in a small-sized raised bed; our family planted several plants in a 4’ x 4’ raised planter. Each vine will be about 3 ½ feet long, and they are easy to grow in nearly any sized garden.
Plant the watermelon seeds about 1 inch (2 cm) deep in “hills” or into soil in a raised bed. In northern areas, wait until the danger of frost has passed. In our area of the country (Western New York—Zone 5), we typically wait until Memorial Day weekend to plant. Use quality soil enriched with compost.
Once the watermelon fruit has started to appear on the vines, restrict the amount of water to 1” or so per week. Watermelons are native to Southern Africa and are desert plants. To develop sweet fruit, the plants require relatively dry conditions.
Some watermelon gardeners will mix sand into the soil prior to planting the plants to provide a more “desert-like” medium. Raised beds help water drain quickly from the plants, so the watermelon plants will not get flooded during periodic rain storms.
How to Determine When a Sugar Baby Watermelon Is Ripe
Sugar Babies have a rind with a solid, dark forest green color. The fruit is nearly spherical and about the size of a small bowling ball (about 8.5” in diameter). Mark the date the seeds are planted onto a calendar. This will allow the gardener to estimate when the fruit will ripen. Most of these watermelons ripen about 85 days from the day the seeds are planted.
Once the required amount of time has passed, examine the fruit. The area underneath the melon (where it is in contact with the ground) should turn a yellow color.
Sometimes, Sugar Babies are so dark in color that the yellow coloration can be difficult to see. In this case, it may be necessary to rely on other signs—in most situations, however, the watermelon will have developed a yellowish underbelly.
Brown/Fallen Spoon Leaf
Watermelon plants have a “spoon leaf”—a small, spoon-shaped leaf closest to the watermelon on the vine. This leaf will dry up, turn brown, and often fall off when the melon is ripe. The curly tendril closest to the watermelon will also turn brown, indicating the fruit is ripe.
Before cutting the fruit from the vine, gently scratch the Sugar Baby watermelon with a fingernail. A ripe melon will have a hard rind and will be resistant to scratching.
Harvesting Sugar Baby Watermelons
Once the melon is ripe, simply cut the watermelon from the vine. Cut open the melon—a ripe melon will be a deep pink or red color, with a lot of mature seeds in the heart.
We planted our watermelons in late May, and we had mature fruit by the end of August. Our four-year-old son planted the seeds, cared for the plants, and ultimately enjoyed eating the result of his hard work!
Sugar Baby watermelons are low in calories and have very high water content. All watermelons act as a mild diuretic (i.e., they flush water through the body). Red watermelons like the Sugar Baby watermelon have lycopene, an antioxidant.
Watermelon also contains a small amount of calcium and protein. All watermelon varieties have a good dose of vitamin A and vitamin C, in addition to potassium and magnesium.
Watermelon is a healthy, sweet snack for any summer day!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 13, 2017:
We have only grown them one season, too, Deborah! We have difficulty growing watermelons here (zone 5) as the summers can be too short to grow them. We have had a very rainy and cold summer this year, so we don't have any watermelons in the garden. We will try again next year!
Deborah Minter from U.S, California on August 13, 2017:
Great article.... I grew sugar babys one season. Absolutely delicious!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 28, 2013:
We really enjoyed growing them in our yard, Peggy, but you do need a sunny spot for them! They are so cute and sweet - perfect for a smaller garden bed. I can't wait to plant my gardens this year - we still have the danger of frost so it will have to wait a few more weeks!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2013:
Sad to say but I don't have enough sunny areas to grow these sugar baby watermelons in our yard. Just planted more tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants and herbs. No room for more but I enjoyed reading about them. The picture of your son eating a slice of watermelon is so cute. Up and useful votes.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 25, 2012:
We had a pretty warm summer last year, and I never really watered ours. Most of the guides that I have read indicate 1" of water per week - the drier the soil, the sweeter the melon (though you don't want to absolutely dehydrate the vines - they need water, but not all that much). When the seedlings popped up, we watered on a regular basis (never let the soil become dry and cracked, of course), but once the plants had set fruit, I basically ignored them. If we didn't get rain in over a week, I'd water them. The raised beds are great for drainage. The kids sowed the seeds directly into the raised beds at the end of May and we had melons by August. You'll only get about 2 melons per vine with the Sugar Babies - they won't produce as much as the larger melons.
Brian Dooling from Connecticut on April 25, 2012:
thanks leahlefler this is exactly what i was looking for, thanks for linking it to my question! It's reassuring to see that you didn't seem to have a problem with the watermelons in western NY, im in CT so although the climate isn't the exact same it is really close. You say don't water it too much? i read that if the temp is over 80 degrees you need to water them twice a day, did you water yours daily? thanks again and great hub! voted up useful and interesting!
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 15, 2012:
Hi Alex - are you asking what they taste like? They're very sweet! These were my favorite melons - my kids do prefer the seedless varieties they've grown used to from the grocery store, but it was good for them to see and eat real watermelons. We grew Orange Tendersweets, too (you can see the link under my article) - those are also great tasting. They taste like watermelons, but the Orange Tendersweets are a pale orange color!
alex on April 12, 2012:
what do they like
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 08, 2011:
The Sugar Baby watermelon is wonderful for Northern gardeners, because it grows fast enough (from seed) to produce fruit prior to the first frost. Trsmd, you are correct in the statement that watermelon plants do not transplant well. You should always grow watermelon from seed! We planted our watermelon seeds in a mushroom compost (we purchased the compost in bulk and had it delivered). We also grew them in raised beds, and they grew vigorously!
Trsmd from India on September 08, 2011:
Watermelons do not transplant well. Sow them where they will grow, in a sunny place, well tilled soil and where they can freely spread. Mix well cured compost in the bed if you have it.