I do not want to get into the issue of global warming but there are indications that many plants have moved to a different timetable in their flower and fruit production. Shooting Star clerodendrum – native to Papua New Guinea and the Philipinnes – was once a February flowerer but by the end of the first week of January this year Marsh Harbour had many clerodendrum shrubs in full blossom. Grass is still growing and needs more ‘out of season’ trimming than is usual during the cooler months. For the home gardener this means we can start some crops earlier than normal. Corn and watermelons are good candidates for February sowing.
Watermelons originated in Africa and love to grow in alluvial areas deposited by rivers. The nearest we can get to these conditions in our riverless Bahamas is a fertile sandy area. Watermelons are heavy feeders but unlike most cucurbit vines do not grow well in soil that has been composted. Prepare your soil a week or two ahead of sowing seeds by applying 6-6-6 fertilizer to the whole area. Plant seeds about six feet apart in any direction and water regularly.
Most watermelons bear two fruits and once the fruits are established the watering can be reduced. Near to ripening time there should be no watering. If it rains heavily at this time your watermelon fruits may split. How to tell if a watermelon is ripe? There are many methods that work if you deal with hundreds of watermelons a day and can afford the occasional mistake. The best ripeness indicator for home gardeners is the light-coloured area the fruits rest on. When this turns from white to yellow you should be in luck. If you have any doubts, leave the harvesting for another day or two.
My favourite watermelon variety is Crimson Sweet but there are many other varieties to choose from including Charleston Gray and Jubilee. Some smaller varieties such as Sugar Baby have wonderful taste but why grow small watermelons when you can grow big ones. Watermelons planted in February can be enjoyed in June.
Corn is wind pollinated so must be grown in ‘blocks’ which rows sown close together. Corn is a gross feeder and must be grown in really fertile soil. Sow the seeds an inch deep and a foot apart and keep the soil moist. Lots of insects enjoy corn so it is wise to spray your corn with an insecticide such as Sevin in the early and middle stages. When the ears of corn develop you should sprinkle the tops with an insecticidal dust such as Sevin in powder form.
Pollen is produced by male tassels at the very top of the corn plant. The female receptors are called silk and surround the cob, forming a bunch above the ear. Each strand of silk is attached to the cob and when fertilised forms a single grain of corn. To test for ripeness, undo the top of an ear and part the dried silk. Press on the top grain with your thumb nail. If it spurts juice your corn is ready.
Many gardeners like to grow beans – any sort will do – along with the corn. Beans fix nitrogen in the soil and benefit the corn’s growth. In addition you should apply 6-6-6 fertilizer every four weeks to keep the growing plants well fed. Like most fruit-producing vegetables corn enjoys dry conditions while ripening. Start your corn in February and you will be eating it in May.
Pepper plants will produce well into or maybe throughout summer but tomatoes need to be replenished. If you plant tomato seeds now and the beginning of March you can extend your production into June, the latest we can expect full-size tomatoes. Cherry and grape tomatoes can last into July. Large-fruited cherry tomatoes – the size of golf balls – are worth growing for early summer.