Tips for Growing Melons
Cucumis melo is closely related to the, requiring for its cultivation a hot arid atmosphere with at least 16°C (60°F), and it is happier at temperates well above this. It is not therefore a commercially profitable crop in temperate climates when imported melons from warm countries are available at reasonable prices all the year round.
However, on a smaller scale, melons are grown following general propagating activities on benches and also make an excellent frame crop. There are many varieties in the catalogues outside the usual range, eg among the canteloupes, which can be produced as delicacies.
|Seed sown||Early to mid-spring|
|Planted||Mid to late spring|
|Harvested||Mid summer to early autumn|
|Seed sown||Early toin greenhouses|
|Planted in frame||Mid to late spring|
|Harvested||Late summer to early autumn.|
Sow seeds either on their side or end in 8-10cm (3-¼ – 4in) pots of clay, plastic or peat, using JI potting compost No 1 or soilless compost of high nutrient level. Germination occurs best at 18-21°C (65-70°F) in a propagating case, it being advisable, as with, to ensure a brisk germination in astringent conditions because the young plants are extremely disease prone.
Preparations for planting method of cultivation for the early crop was to make up a “hot bed” with farmyard manure, preferably in the greenhouse border or bench (underbench heating generally being unnecessary) and leave it over a period of days to allow dispersal of ammonia, not always very practical in a mixed culture greenhouse. More usually these days, and in particular with a warm greenhouse, good riddled loam is used with a small proportion (one-fifth to one-sixth part) of well-rotted farmyard manure. Alternatively leaf-mould, or peat can be used. Where a “hot bed” is used themixture is placed on top of the bed after it has cooled down a little and the ammonia dispersed. John Innes No 2 compost can be used instead of the soil/manure mix with reasonable success. The placement of the bed must be in relation to a trellis or other means of support and depends on the length of the season and level of management. While a continuous bed 30-45cm (12-18in) high takes a lot of soil, it is more retentive of moisture than the mounds 25-30cm (10-12in) high, frequently recommended, which dry out all too quickly during absence on business.
The young melon plants grow strongly in good light, being supported if necessary with a short cane and planted out (like cucumbers) slightly proud of the soil at 75cm (2-1/2ft) apart when the soil mix is sufficiently warm, preferably 18-20°C (65-68°F). The plants are well watered in. If possible the greenhouse should be kept warm and made more humid by limited ventilation for a few days, though melons can cope with some departure from the rules.
Constant watering is necessary, especially when rapid growth is seen. The leading shoot should be trained up the supporting trellis with soft twine before pinching out the growing tip, which encourages the development of the side shoots which bear the. Some restriction in side-shoot growth will be necessary to avoid a clutter of leaves, bearing in mind that it will only be necessary to leave a small number of female flowers, pinching side shoots out a leaf or so beyond the selected female flower. The unisexual nature of melons necessitates manual pollination by removing the male flowers and placing them into the open centre of the female flowers, which can be readily recognized by the swelling behind the petals. It is important to do this when the sun is shining and to pollinate five to six flowers on each plant simultaneously, otherwise there will be varying development and size, although this to a degree may be desirable on smaller scale culture.
Top dressing with soil, plus the use of liquid fertilizers, are the main cultural requirements. Avoid saturation of the soil, which appears to predispose the plants to disease, especially at the neck of the plant. To prevent stem collapse some gardeners use broken pots as a shield against moisture. A moist growing atmosphere is frequently advised but is not now in favour as it provides ideal conditions for many diseases to flourish.
Support for the plant
Fruit must be individually tied in to the trellis or supported by small nets. There will be on average 5-6 melons per plant, it being unwise to allow any more to develop.
When the fruit begins to change colour this is a sign that it is ripening, at which time water quantities are reduced and, if possible, freer ventilation given, the fruit being carefully detached with scissors when ripe.
Culture in frames
The cultivation of melons in frames is basically similar to their cultivation in greenhouses, it being better to remove the soil at the planting station and replace it with a suitable compost of soil/manure mix. Normally only one plant per Dutch light frame is allowed, being conveniently planted in the middle of the sash, generally at a time of year when lettuces have been harvested, preferably in late spring or early summer. After setting out young plants, whitewash the glass to give shade to prevent the plants wilting particularly in hot weather. The top of each plant is pinched out when the young plants are 15cm (6in) high to encourage early side shoot development. This results in bushy plants which produce sufficient flowers, generally 5-6, to pollinate as before, observing the same general procedure.
Watering and feeding requirements are the same as for greenhouse culture, ensuring adequate supplies of moisture and reasonably free ventilation during hot weather. As for cucumbers, a layer of straw on the soil helps to prevent deterioration of fruit.