Tips for Growing Melons

MELONS

I can only feel sorry for melons. They are one of the plants to which no one seems willing to give a home.

Vegetable growers think they are fruit because they taste sweet, while fruit growers and seed companies think they are vegetables because they are closely related to cucumbers and marrows. I simply think they are delicious and, as I tend to eat them either before or after a main course but seldom during it, as far as I am concerned they are annual soft fruit.

 

HISTORY AND TYPES OF MELON

I don’t think anyone is quite sure where the melon originated as it’s now so commonly grown in all the warm areas of the world, but Africa seems the most likely place. Although they were cultivated in ancient times, it has really only been during the past 500 years or so that melons have been of any significance as food plants, probably as better, sweeter forms became available. Although all melons are of the same botanical sub-species, Cucumis melo ssp. Melo, there are now three main and distinct groups: Canteloupes Spherical or oval fruit with pronounced ridges and greenish, pink or orange flesh; includes the popular ‘Ogen’ melon.

Netted or musk melons Spherical fruit with net-like markings and greenish, pink or orange flesh. Winter and honeydew melons Oval fruit with a hard, smooth rind either yellow or green in colour and with white or pale greenish flesh.

Only canteloupes and netted melons can be grown satisfactorily in cool climates, so these are the types I have discussed here. (Water melons are botanically quite distinct but in my experience are also difficult to grow in cooler climates.)

 

WAYS TO GROW MELONS

ideal soil for growing melons is rich and well manuredMelons need around 100 days free from frost (slightly more with some varieties, slightly less with others) to grow and ripen but there must also be adequate warmth, both during the daytime and at night. In Europe, therefore, it can be difficult to grow melons reliably outdoors with no protection anywhere north of central France or, of course, at high altitudes. This leaves three options: a greenhouse, a cold frame or a cloche.

With a heated greenhouse and the facility to maintain a minimum tem perature of about 18°C (65°F), there is no difficulty and almost all varieties can be grown. But providing this amount of heat throughout the spring and autumn can make melon growing a very costly pastime and my advice is to select only the hardier varieties and grow them in a greenhouse maintained at a minimum of about 7°C (45°F). It’s very important to keep the greenhouse well ventilated, however, and melons must have dry conditions (much drier than cucumbers need) if they are not to develop diseases.

The cold frame provides the next best option but you must have somewhere warmer to raise the plants and then somewhere to harden them off before planting; and even cold frames will only be really successful in warmer areas.

Cloches are the least satisfactory, partly because of size limitations and also because they provide less enhanced warmth. In practice, cloches will be successful only with the hardiest varieties in warmer areas; and even then, may not be effective in cool summers. Any form of cloche may be used but the best results will come from the glass high-barn pattern which retains heat well and provides good head space.

 

SEED SOWING AND PLANT RAISING

Melons for growing with protection should be raised in individual pots and then transplanted with minimum root disturbance. Sow the seeds on edge, about 1cm (1/2in) deep, two to a 9cm (3-1/2in) pot of soil-based sowing compost. They should germinate within about five days at 21°C (70°F).

Pull out the weaker of each pair of seedlings and grow on the remainder until they have four true leaves. If they are to be planted in a cold frame or cloches, they will then require approximately 10-14 days of hardening off.

 

SOIL/COMPOST

Greenhouse

The soil of a greenhouse border can be used for growing melons provided it is enriched with well rotted manure or compost, but if the plants show signs of wilt or root-rotting diseases, you will need to switch to some form of container growing, either 20cm (8in) diameter pots of a soil-based compost such as John Innes No. 2, or a soilless compost in growing bags.

Cold frame

Dig in well rotted manure to the central part of the cold frame, or, if the frame is large enough, at positions 1m (3ft) apart. (This is where the root system will develop, so it is absolutely pointless to enrich the soil in the entire frame.) Then raise a mound or ridge of soil at each planting position about 15cm (6in) high.

Cloche

Prepare the soil as for the cold frame, again preparing the planting positions 1m (3ft) apart.

 

PLANTING

Take care when planting not to disturb the roots in the pot ball and ensure that the compost ball is slightly proud of the surrounding soil. If stem base rotting proves to be a problem, it is worth slipping a ‘collar’ of plastic pipe about 3-4cm (1 – 1-1/2in) diameter over the young stem. This will ensure that the stem stays dry during watering, but must be done carefully to avoid damaging the young leaves.

The soil in which you grow your melons should not be allowed to dry out, but take care not to allow pools of water to lie around the plants during cool periods as this will encourage rotting. A proprietary liquid fertilizer with a high potash content should be applied once a week after the small fruit have begun to swell.

 

POLLINATION, TRAINING AND SUPPORTING

Greenhouses

'ogen' and 'sweetheart' melonsMelons should be trained vertically. Attach a system of horizontal wires — about 2.5mm (1/10in) diameter, plastic-coated garden wire is necessary as it must later support the weight of the fruit —about 30cm (1 ft) apart to the sides and roof of the greenhouse structure. Fix a vertical cane or similar support behind each plant and attach this securely to the wires.

Tie the vertical shoot to the cane and pinch out the tip once the greenhouse roof has been reached. Tie-in side-shoots along the horizontal wires and pinch out their tips once they have produced six leaves. Flowers will then form; male flowers first with no swelling and subsequently female flowers with a small swelling behind the petals. Once six or seven female flowers are fully open, they should be pollinated. Pull off a few male flowers on a warm, sunny day, and press one into each of the female flowers — don’t pollinate more than three female flowers with each male.

Pinch out any further flowers that form, as the plant will be unable to ripen them all and, from now on, pay special attention to ventilation. The swelling fruits will need supporting with nets tied to the horizontal wires. Special melon nets may be bought or you can improvise with pieces of plastic fruit cage netting.

Cold frames

The principles are the same as for greenhouse plants but instead of training one main shoot vertically, pinch out its tip when it has produced five leaves. It will then form side-shoots. You should train the four strongest along the soil towards each corner of the frame and remove the remainder. Pinch out the tips when the side-shoots reach the corners, and as the flowers develop, pollinate as before but retain only one fruit per side-shoot — four in total. They won’t need netting but should be supported to prevent contact with the soil using straw, a piece of wood or some similar means.

Cloches

Here again, the principle is the same but space is constrained. Instead of four, train two side-shoots along the length of the cloches, and allow each to produce a single fruit.

 

HARVESTING AND STORING

Melons don’t ripen very satisfactorily after picking, so they should be left on the plant until mature. The end away from the stem should be slightly soft and the fruit part fairly easily from the stem when lifted. Unfortunately, they can be kept only for a few days in a fridge.

 

PROBLEMS

The principle problems on melons are rotting of fruit or stem, encouraged by too moist an atmosphere, soil or compost; mildew, which is fairly readily controlled by sulphur or proprietary systemic fungicide spray and virus, carried by aphids which should be controlled by contact insecticide spray as soon as they are seen. Wilt, which results in the collapse and death of the entire plant is only likely to occur when plants have been repeatedly cropped from the same greenhouse soil bed.

17. May 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Fruit & Veg, Soft Fruit | Tags: , | Comments Off on Tips for Growing Melons

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