Growing Succulent Melons

Have you ever grown melons in your garden? It’s been many years since I have. The melons I grew were sweeter than any I’d ever bought but the yield was very small. I just didn’t have enough information to grow them successfully.

The National Garden Bureau sent me a lot of great information about successful melon growing. Here’s the scoop.

If you’ve ever wondered why seed catalogs have melons and watermelons on separate pages, it’s because watermelons are not in the same genus as all the other melons–they are botanically classified as Citrullus and melons belong to the genus Cucumis.

There are a lot of Cucumis melons. In addition to the ones we can buy in the supermarket (cantaloupes, honeydew and the occasional crenshaw and casaba), there are oval-shaped ananas from the Middle East; bright yellow oblong canary melons; French, gray charentais melons; football-shaped Christmas melons; pale green Israeli galia melons; small, elongated oriental melons; and Persian melons with dark green rinds. All probably originated in Iran and India, and have been grown for more than 4,000 years.

Cantaloupes, which are also called muskmelons, are part of the Reticulatus group of melons, which have a netted pattern on the skin, and have a wonderful aroma and slip off the vine easily when ripe. Galia and charentais melons are part of this group.

The smooth skinned melons, including honeydew, casaba, crenshaw, Christmas and canary, do not have the musky odor nor do they slip easily from the vine when ripe.

Melons need a lot of care and a fair amount of space in the garden. They shouldn’t be grown near cucumbers, squash or pumpkins as they can cross-pollinate. You must provide one to two inches of water a week and fertilizer every three weeks.

They prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5, so if your soil is more acidic, you must add lime. They also like a warm soil, so it’s best to have started plants to put in the ground and a plastic mulch to heat up the soil.

The National Garden Bureau suggests putting the black plastic down in late winter to start warming the soil on your melon patch, weighing down the edges to keep it in place. When it’s warm enough to plant, probably mid-May, make five-inch long X cuts in the plastic, spacing the cuts at least four feet apart. Then pull the plastic back at each cut, and create a little hill of soil, adding organic matter, and set your transplants in place.

You can start seeds yourself in peat pots about two to three weeks before planting. Harden them off for at least a week before planting by setting them outside during the warm part of the day in part shade and bringing them in at night.

You can easily ruin a melon planting by rushing the season. Melons are very cold sensitive and prefer soil temperatures above 60 degrees and air temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees. In our humid summers, vines will need very well drained soil and ample space for good air circulation.

Melons have male and female flowers on the same plant. The males open first but only the females set fruit, pollinated by the males, with the help of bees who carry the pollen from flower to flower.

The sweetest melons ripen when the weather is hot and dry. For us that’s August to mid-September. Cut back on watering the plant about three weeks prior to the main crop harvest (each seed packet tells you days to maturity, so use that figure to calculate this). This will ensure sweeter melons.

You’ll know when the netted skin melons are ripe by their fragrance and the stem separating easily from the vine. Smooth skinned melons will turn completely white or yellow when ripe and the blossom end (not attached to the vine) will be slightly soft to the touch. Smooth skinned melons will continue to ripen for several days at room temperature once they are picked.

If you’ve gone the distance and are harvesting some wonderful melons from your garden, the National Garden Bureau suggests opening and eating your melon right in the garden “–without utensils–and let the sweet nectar run down your chin. That’s the true taste of summer!” So it is.

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