Why You Should Grow ‘Sugar Baby’ Watermelon
Celebrate summer with luscious watermelon you grow yourself.
Try your hand at growing an icebox watermelon. These small melons don’t need a ton of space or time to ripen flavor-packed fruits. One of the best known icebox melons is ‘Sugar Baby’. This heirloom watermelon was introduced in 1956 and has been earning fans ever since.
Julie Martens Forney
Like many icebox types, ‘Sugar Baby’ ripens 8- to 12-pound fruits in 75 days (compared to 120 days for a full-size watermelon). Even though fruits are small, they’re packed with full-size flavor and sweetness. Need more convincing? Here are 4 reasons why you should grow icebox watermelons.
1: Small Fruits
Icebox watermelons, including ‘Sugar Baby’, earn their name from their small fruit, which weighs in at 6 to 15 pounds and measures 6 to 10 inches across. Where full-size watermelons need a cool basement, spring house or walk-in cooler for storage, icebox watermelons fit easily into a standard fridge or picnic hamper. This size melon is easy to consume—in its entirety—at a picnic or family supper.
2: Sweet Bite
As the name suggests, ‘Sugar Baby’ serves a sweet bite. Its brix value, which measures total sugar concentration in the flesh, falls around 10.2 (10 percent). That sweetness is similar to a ripe mango or tomato. Brix varies greatly depending on growing conditions. If you’re able to withhold water for at least a week before harvesting a watermelon, that concentrates the sugars and enhances sweetness.
3: Compact Vines
Icebox melon vines typically spread 6 to 8 feet—compared to a 12- to 19-foot run for full-size watermelons. The yield per vine depends heavily on the variety (and also on growing conditions). ‘Sugar Baby’ produces anywhere from two to five melons per vine. In regions with a long growing season, the first melon is usually the largest, with smaller melons ripening toward the end of the season.
4: Easy to Grow
Watermelons aren’t too demanding in the garden, and ‘Sugar Baby’ is no exception. These are heat-loving plants, so wait to plant until soil is warm (minimum 70 F). In short growing season regions, cover soil with black plastic prior to planting to speed warming. Watermelons like water, so plan to water when rain is scarce.
The trickiest part of growing ‘Sugar Baby’ watermelon is knowing when fruits are ready to pick. With most watermelons, it usually takes 5 weeks from flower to ripe fruit. The clues to watch for are a brown tendril and yellow ground spot. Specifically, when the tendril nearest the fruit turns brown, that’s the top sign for ripeness. At the same time, the ground spot—the spot where the melon rests on the ground—should be a bright yellow. If the tendril browns and the ground spot is tan, wait.
With ‘Sugar Baby’, a brown tendril signals you need to wait about a week before picking. Use an industrial weatherproof marker (find them at home centers) to write the date on fruits when the tendril browns. That makes it easy to track when to pick. Ripe watermelons can stay on the vine for about two weeks, unless there’s heavy rainfall, which can cause fruits to crack. If you spot a cracked rind, pick the fruit and eat it.
Other Tasty Icebox Melons
‘Sugar Baby’ isn’t the only choice when it comes to icebox watermelons. Other varieties offer more fruit per vine, yellow flesh or classic watermelon rind striping. Bush icebox watermelon varieties take up even less space in the garden or can be grown in containers.
‘Doll Babies’ (above)—Custom seed mix featuring two icebox melons with either yellow or pinky-red flesh. Ripens in 68-80 days.
‘Yellow Baby’ and ‘Yellow Doll’—Six- to eight-pound melons with sweet yellow flesh. Rind is deep green with bright green stripes. Ripens in 65 to 75 days. Good choice for northern areas with a short growing season.
‘Tiger Baby’—Red flesh fruits weigh five to six pounds. Ripens in 80 to 90 days.
‘New Orchid’—Seven- to nine-pound melons with yellow flesh having a sherbet taste. Ripens in 80 days.
‘Cal Sweet Bush’—Compact bushy vines grow 14 to 18 inches long and yield two to three melons per vine. Ten- to 12-pound melons have striped rinds with red flesh. Ripens in 90 days. Good choice for containers.
‘Bush Sugar Baby’—Compact vines grow 36 to 42 inches and yield up to two fruits (six to 12 pounds). Ripens in 75 days. Good choice for containers.