How to Grow Melons
Melon varieties are legion. I can only suggest that you experiment. I grow four or five different types a year, and have found that some of the modern ‘Ogen’ are early and delicious. Though each fruit is only just large enough for two people. Some of the old cantaloup types send one’s taste buds reeling. One of the pleasantest ways of finding seed is to taste as many melons as possible when abroad. Generally, field-grown melons come true from seed, so save a few seeds of those you like most and try them under home conditions. A few melon plants, given the right temperature and a bit of help can produce royally.
Often a frustrating crop, needing heat, a rich diet and plenty of attention. However, a perfectly ripened melon of one’s own growing is quite a sensation, and makes the fuss entirely worthwhile. They need a minimum temperature of 18°C (65°F). and are happier in a few degrees more.
The seeds are best sown singly in small pots in gentle heat. Don’t try cheating and put in several seeds. The young plants hate root disturbance, even if that only means pulling out adjacent surplus seedlings, and they will refuse to grow. Try to keep the plants moving on until they are ready for placing out in frames, under cloches, or in the greenhouse. Two happy plants will easily fill a frame 2m x 2m (6ft x 6ft). In the greenhouse, they can be grown up strings. Mine are planted in open beds; I’ve never managed to get more than three fruit from a pot-grown plant. Growing bags might be better.
When flowering, the plants produce malein abundance, but females more rarely. Usually on short side branches. The females need identifying (the potential melon is clearly visible beneath the flower), and fertilizing by hand.
Best conditions for fertilization are dry sunny days. On damp days the anthers of the male flowers don’t open. Pick a male flower, roll the base gently between the fingers to encourage more pollen out, then strip off the petals and sepals. Dab the anthers onto the central part of the female flower. The latter are only open for a day or two, so the plants need careful watching if a good crop is to ensue.
Grown up strings, or along the ground under cloches, the side-shoots are stopped (ie. nipped off) after three leaves if they bear no fruit, or at three leaves beyond the fruit if they do. Grown on the flat in frames, the plants are stopped early on (after about four or five leaves) to encourage lots of new stems, then I let them do as they please. Weak stems and yellowing leaves are removed. As the frame plants follow on from forced, I get a single season of six to eight fruits from each plant. (That’s not all that high – in the early nineteenth century, and using manure heating, it was common for a three-light frame to produce anything up to a hundred fruits a year.)
The fruit should be placed base-down on tiles, or preferably on straw, to discourage slugs and woodlice as well as to give a little extra warmth. They should also be turned every few days, so that they ripen evenly and don’t bruise and rot. Red spider mites adore melon plants, as do white fly.
Regular inspection and spraying is essential. Disease resistance is claimed for a number of new varieties, but I’ve not yet found any that are absolutely proof against attack. In moist conditionscan be a problem; keep it at bay by ventilating the plants generously during any spells of sunshine.
When some good fruits have formed, don’t press them to see if they’re ripe. A melon approaching ripeness begins to give off the most glorious smell. It’s strong and quite unmistakable. Once you’ve noticed the smell, leave the fruit for a day or two, either on the plant or in a sunny and secure place. Then call your nearest and dearest together for the treat. If, after a while, even perfect melons tire your palate, try stuffing them with alpine strawberries.
One note of caution: don’t eat a melon you suspect might be ‘over the top’, for it can play havoc with your insides.