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Grow The Juiciest Melons Ever

Enjoy sweet, flavorful watermelons, muskmelons, and honeydew this summer!

There is nothing more indicative that summer is truly here than sitting down to juicy, home-grown melons.

Many people have their favorite kind of melon, and yes, there are a lot of melons that can be grown, but most people tend to grow watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), as well as muskmelon (also called cantaloupe or rockmelons), and honeydew which are variations of the same species Cucumis melo.

Watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe are considered quite easy to grow, and all are grown in much the same way, so whatever type of melon you decide to grow, if you follow the steps below, you will have fresh melon for breakfast or in a good fruit salad in just a few weeks.


Step by Step

Choosing Plants

As mentioned above, the most popular melons grown are watermelon, honeydew, and muskmelon (also called cantaloupe or rockmelon), but when deciding which variety to buy, such as seedless, here are a few things to keep in mind:

    Disease Resistant:

  • When choosing muskmelon, make sure you choose a variety that is resistant to powdery mildew. Powdery mildew usually develops as the melons are ripening and the energy the plant loses can rob the melon of their flavor.

  • When choosing watermelon plants, look for varieties that are resistant to fusarium wilt and bacterial wilt.

    Short-Vined Vs. Long-Vined:

  • Also, choose long-vined cultivars rather than the short-vined or bush type. This is because long-vined will have fruit with superior flavor and texture because they have more leaves and can put more energy into fruit production.

  • If you are short on space and need to grow a short-vined or bush type variety, then thin the fruit to two melons per plant to keep the fruit-to-leaf ration high.

    Fruit Type:

  • Typically, muskmelon have soft-textured flesh, but some cultivars are described as very firm-fleshed or crisp, just keep in mind that crisp varieties will have flesh that is crunchy like a cucumber.

So be picky about what kind of melon you are going to grow, and pay attention to the details given to you on the back of the seed packet so you're not surprised when you sit down to eat your melons.

Culture

Melons like full sun, hot days, warm nights, and lots of room to grow. They also need moderately rich and well-drained soil that has a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.

Melons really dislike extremely acidic soil, so choose a spot that has naturally alkaline soil, or has recently been limed.

Planting and Spacing

Melons need very warm soil and will not grow well in soil that is cooler than 60° F (16° C). They don't tolerate any frost, so make sure to sow seeds outdoors two weeks after the last expected frost.

You can use rows or hills to plant your melons, but one method is not any better than another, it just depends upon what suits you best.

Some gardeners like to put several plants together in a clump or "hill," while other people like to plant in conventional rows.

Weeding is easier with the hill method, but if you water with soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines, planting in rows will be the best way to go.

If using hills: plant two to four plants per hill with the hills spaced 2 to 3 feet (.5 to 1 m) apart.

If using rows: plant 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) apart in rows and make sure the rows are 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 m) apart.

How Many To Plant

Short-vined or bushy muskmelon and watermelon will produce two or three fruits per plant. Long-vined types will produce up to five fruits per plant.

Ripening tends to be uniform so you can plan on all of the fruits being mature in a three week period.

Crop Rotation

If you follow good crop rotation, plant melons in an area that previously had legumes, tomatoes, peppers, or leafy greens, but not after other cucurbits or corn.

Watering and Care

Melons need plenty of water while they are young, and regular deep watering is especially crucial during the first 3 to 4 weeks that the vines are growing in your garden.

That said, you can improve the flavor of the fruit if you don't water as often as the fruit ripens. A good technique is to cut back on the water once the plants have begun to set fruit because overwatering dilutes the melon's sugars and makes the flavor weaker and less sweet.

This is a fine line, because you never want the melons to dry out completely, or get too stressed for water, because when you do water again, or it rains, the ripening melons can split.

So simply reduce the water but not to the point where you are stressing the plant.

To give a steady supply of moisture, drip irrigation or soaker hoses are the best way, because you are watering the roots directly rather than soaking the leaves. By keeping the leaves dry, you can help prevent common foliar diseases such as powdery mildew which can affect the flavor of the melons.

Important Note:

Try not to disturb or move the vines as the plants grow, even to weed. If you disturb the vines, you can interrupt the flow of nutrients to the melons which increases the risk that the melons will ripen on one side, but stay green on the other side.

The best thing to do is to weed the melon patch really well just as the vines begin to grow and then heavily mulch to keep weeds under control.

Fertilize

Melons are heavy feeders and from the time they start growing until the first flower appears, melons need a steady supply of nutrients. A good formula is to mix a solution of 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) of fish emulsion in 1 gallon (3.8 l) of water and apply it weekly when the plants are young.

An application of a kelp-based foliar spray when the plants are in full flower will complete fertilization.

Days to Maturity

You can plan 75 to 90 days from seed, depending on the cultivar.

Harvesting

Melons can be hard to tell if they are ripe, but here are some common techniques.

  • Muskmelons: develop a thick netting over the rind, and the rind beneath becomes a lighter shade of green or even yellow.

  • Watermelons: when ripe, the curled tendril at the stem end dries to brown and the underside of the melon turns yellow or cream-colored. The melon will also give a flat, dead sound when thumped. Rinds of unripe watermelons have a nice shiny gloss; ripe melons lose that shine, so the rinds are drab.

  • Other melons: Slip from the vine when ripe.

All melons will ripen a bit more for a couple of days after harvest, so store them at room temperature until they are totally ripe, then put them in the refrigerator or cool location for several weeks.

Some Common Pests

Squash bugs, cucumber beetles (which also carry bacterial wilt), squash vine borers, and aphids (carriers of mosaic viruses).

  • Cucumber beetles: typically prefer cucumbers and muskmelons, but they will occasionally eat watermelons, too. Insecticidal soap is an organic, effective treatment for most cucumber beetle infestations.

    If you've had major cucumber beetle problems in the past, use row covers to keep them from getting to your vines, just remember to remove the covers when the vines begin to flower so that bees can pollinate them. If you don't, the plant won't set fruit.

    More on Cucumber Beetles

  • Squash vine borer larvae: can tunnel into watermelon vines, eating the inner tissue at the base and filling the stem with slimy castings. The attacked vines will wilt suddenly and rot and die. To help avoid these pests, row covers are the best defense.

Some Common Diseases

Powdery mildew, mosaic viruses, angular leaf spot and other fungal and bacterial diseases.

More on Powdery Mildew

More on Fungal and Bacterial Diseases


Watermelon:

Muskmelon (also called rockmelon or cantaloupe):

Honeydew:

Melon in rows:

Melon in hills:

Drip line:

Don't disturb the vines:

Muskmelon slip from
the vine:

Watermelon have a brown tendril and creamy or yellow underside:

Close up of watermelon
brown tendril:


Conclusion

The great news is that all melons are pretty easy to grow, so no matter if you are new to gardening or an old hand, make sure you plant some.

Now, if growing melons turns out to be too easy for you, try doing it the Japanese way! Check this out!

In Tokyo store space is very limited, but there are a lot of customers to sell to. The stores however, can't have round watermelons because they take up too much room, and they have too much empty space around them.

No problem. They came up with the idea to grow melons inside a box, and when they're fully grown, they simply take them out of the box and can be stacked. It cuts down on transportation costs, and the grocery stores can handle them better.

So have fun and have a great summer!


Click image for larger view:


Hilary Rinaldi is a member of the National Garden Writers Association, a nationally published writer, and a certified organic grower. She regularly speaks and writes about all gardening related topics, with an emphasis on making gardening a successful and enjoyable process for anyone who wants to learn. Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine concentrates of giving detailed gardening tips and gardening advice to all levels of gardeners.



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