The National Garden Bureau celebrated 2005 as the Year Of The Melon, and for good reason.  Even in the 16th century one French monk waxed rhapsodic about Charantais melons saying “O fleur de tous les fruits.  O ravissant melon.”  (Oh, flower of all the fruits.  Oh, ravishing melon!)  And five centuries later, there is still nothing quite as sensuous as taking in the sweet scent of ripe melons wafting on the breeze on a summers day.

Actually, melons were grown long before the 16th century, over 4,000 years ago in fact, and surprisingly they have never been found growing in the wild.  Melons are believed to have originated in the hot valleys of southwest Asia, specifically Iran (Persia) and India. Early American pioneers grew honeydew and Casaba melons back in the 1600’s but only in recent times did LOTS of varieties become available. 

For gardeners who like to know exactly what they’re growing, all melons are in the same family, the curcurbit or gourd family.  It’s a big family with over 100 branches that include cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins, all kinds of squash, and even loofahs.  And if you’re planning on growing some this spring, keep a few things in mind.

One is that they need to be fairly dry from about three weeks prior to harvest.  Too much rain or watering during that last few weeks can mean a fruit of low sweetness, while a bit of drying then produces fruit that are sweet and juicy.  Remember too, that melons need heat to ripen properly, and it’s easy to tell when they’re ripe, either on the vine or in a supermarket.  Just sniff the skin.  If you smell the flavor of melon it is ripe for the picking or buying.  Another indicator for ripeness is when the stem separates easily from the fruit, and yet another is color of cantaloupes.  They’re ready when the rind changes from green to tan-yellow between the veins.

Disease and pests can attack melons just as they do other fruits and vegetables, but experts say that a healthy plant will not attract pests and diseases.  If you put a healthy, vigorous melon transplant into rich, well-drained soil that has plenty of organic matter, in full sun, with good air circulation, then top dress it or fertilize, and provide plenty of water and enough room for the vine to run, the result will be a healthy plant.  Take away any of its necessities and the plant will be weaker and stressed, attracting insects and disease.  Makes sense.

 There are several ways to plant melons, keeping in mind that they’re warm season fruits which like temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees.  One is to sow seeds directly in the garden at the same time as you plant tomatoes, after all danger of frost is past and the ground is warm and dried from its winter wetness.  Make a small hill of rich, well drained soil and plant three to five seeds two inches apart and about one inch deep.  Water and fertilize well and watch them grow.  Once the vines have two sets of tree leaves, thin out the smaller or weaker vines, leaving the two strongest to grow on.

Some gardeners grow them in black plastic too, which absorbs heat, warms the soil early, conserves moisture, and eliminates weeds.  And some like to sow seed indoors using peat pots filled with compost about 15 – 18 days before planting time.  Harden off the plants for at least a week before planting them.  At planting time, tear the peat pot down to its soil level  to keep the pot from wicking up moisture out of the soil.  There are always good years and bad ones for planting melons, but if you’re lucky and grow an abundance of tasty melons, they’re worth the trouble.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.