Grow Your Own Melons
Sowing Melon Seeds
The roots of melons should be disturbed as little as possible, therefore sow the seeds individually in mid-spring in 7.5 cm (3”) pots containing a good seed. Water the compost and place the seed on its edge about 2 cm (¾”) deep in the centre of the pot.
Melons are sub-tropical plants and will not germinate unless the temperature is at least 18°C (65°F) or more; preferably it should be 21°C (70°F). A heated greenhouse or propagator is the best place for germination, but if you do not own either of these, an airing cupboard is the next best thing. Sow about twice the number of seeds that you will eventually require because, although most are likely to germinate, this will enable you to select even-sized plants for.
Germination should occur within a 1. 2. few days. If the seeds have been germinating in an airing cupboard or other dark place, as soon as they have germinated move them to a light place with a minimum temperature of 15°C (60°F). Suitable places are next to the glass in a greenhouse or on a window-sill.
Keep thearound the moist by careful watering— overwatering is nearly as bad as letting the soil dry out. Add a little liquid fertilizer to the water if the leaves start to look yellow. You will find that melons, once they have germinated, grow very quickly, and they will need potting in to larger pots within five days or so after germination. Use a good potting compost and 12.5 cm (5”) pots.
Melon plants are ready for planting out when they have between three to five leaves and are about 15-20 cm (6-8”) tall. When planting in a frame, the position of the plants will depend on your method of training but, whatever you do, the growing tip of the plant will need to be pinched out just above the fourth or fifth leaf. You may find it necessary to do this before or at the same time as planting out, depending on the growth rate.
Before planting out draw the soil up into a low mound where the young plants are to go. They should then be knocked out of their pots, disturbing the rootballs as little as possible. This is most easily done by placing your hand across the top of the pot, while holding the base of the stem between the base of two fingers. Then tip the pot upside down and gently tap it until the rootball comes loose.
Plant with about 1.5 cm (3/4”) of the top of the rootball above the soil surface on the mound and firm the soil around it. Melons are very susceptible to collar rot which attacks the main stem at soil level, especially if it is wet. Planting on a mound with part of the rootball above the soil prevents water collecting around the stem.
As a further precaution against collar rot, insert small pots, one each side of the mound. The plants can then be watered by pouring water into the pots, thus watering the roots while avoiding the stem.
Since melons in temperate climates may be planted out in late spring or early summer, you should be prepared for late frosts at night, and if these are forecast, the frames or cloches should be covered with sacking or newspapers.
Fairly soon after planting, the plants will need to be trimmed and trained. In frames they should be grown so that the frame is nicely filled with foliage but does not become crowded.
The normal method is to make a mound at the back of the frame and to put one plant on this. When it has produced four or five leaves pinch off its top to encourage the growth of side-shoots. The plant will normally produce a sideshoot in the axil of each leaf joint. The four strongest should be trained forward down the frame, evenly spaced out and pegged lightly down to the ground, using sticks or pieces of bent wire.
When the four sideshoots have each produced three leaves, they, too, should be pinched out, this time above the third leaf. Once again the plant will produce sideshoots and, as a result of the heavy pruning, should also produce lots of flowers. When the fruits produced by the female flowers are about walnut size, select four—ideally, one on each main branch, all evenly sized and evenly spaced in the frame—and remove all the others, and any that appear thereafter. At the second leaf beyond each fruit, cut off the remainder of the shoot and keep other sideshoots rigorously pruned so that the fruits are not shaded and the frame, although full with foliage, is not crowded.
Watering, Feeding and Ventilation
The secret of growing good melons is watering. Water regularly and heavily, keeping the soil moist but not saturated. In hot weather, each plant may need 12 L (2-2- gal) every day. Tepid water is best.
Continue to water heavily until the fruit has reached its maximum size and begins to ripen, when a distinct melon smell will emanate from the frame. From then until the fruit is picked water only sparingly. Excess water will cause the fruit to split.
If bare roots appear above the soil surface, cover with a thin layer of soil, or a mixture of rotted manure and soil. Liquid feeding can be carried out, but should be done with caution, as too much can encourage rampant shoot growth. It is of most use where the quantity of manure available for the initial preparation was insufficient.
Although melons are sub-tropical it is possible for them to become too hot in a closed frame in hot weather. Prop the frame slightly open in the middle of the day to provide ventilation. Additionally, in very hot weather, shade the frames with a proprietary shading paint or with net curtaining.
Out-of-doors, melons may be pollinated by insects but do not rely upon them in glasshouses, frames or under cloches.
You should therefore pollinate by hand.
Male melon flowers grow together two or three in a clump and have a prominent central core. Females grow singly and have a round swelling just behind the flower where it joins the stalk.
Pollination is most successful when the atmosphere is dry, so pollinate in full sunshine in the middle of the day. Pick a male flower, remove its petals, and then push it into a fully open female flower.
It is important that all the female flowers on one plant should be pollinated at the same time; otherwise the one that is pollinated first may absorb all the plant’s strength and you will get one large melon at the expense of the others. If one female flower develops long before the others, it is best to pinch it out and wait for more to develop at the same time.
Pollinate about double the number of flowers than you want fruits, so that you have plenty of choice from which to select even-sized fruit. Decide whether you want a few large, well-developed ones, or more but smaller specimens. Your choice will to some extent be decided by variety. Small-fruited varieties will support perhaps half a dozen fruits per plant, while two or three are ample for larger fruited varieties.
Care of the swelling fruit As the melons develop they need to be supported. Place a piece of wood, tile or upturned flower pot underneath the developing fruit. This will also help to keep it clean, and prevent possible damage from slugs or soil pests.
The fruits develop best if they are exposed directly to the sun. Fold back or remove any leaves which are shading a swelling fruit.
Do not be in too much of a hurry to pick your melons. As they ripen the characteristic melon aroma becomes stronger and the melon becomes soft at the end opposite the stalk. Test this by pressing with your thumb. Also, the skin of ripe fruit becomes patchy yellow and in netted varieties the pattern of ridges on the skin develops.
The final clue, however, is small cracks which develop on the fruit round the stalk joining the melon to the plant. Once these have appeared the fruit is ripe and ready for cutting.
Harvest melons by cutting away a small portion of stem either side of the fruit stalk. They can be stored for a maximum of three weeks at room temperature or slightly longer in a refrigerator, especially if they are picked a little before they are fully ripe. However, most varieties should be eaten at room temperature. Chilling reduces the flavour.
Growing under cloches or plastic Until comparatively recently, gardeners in cold temperate regions were unable to grow melons without a frame or greenhouse. But this has all changed with the development of hardy cantaloupe varieties, such as Sweetheart. These can be grown successfully under cloches or plastic tunnels in most sheltered gardens, given reasonable weather.
Tent cloches are too small for melons to develop satisfactqrily and they should be grown either under barn cloches or under 45 cm (1-½’) high plastic tunnels. Space the plants 1.2 m (4’) apart and erect the cloches or tunnels over them with the first plant 60 cm (2’) from the entrance.
As with melons grown in frames, the leading shoots should be pinched out after the fourth leaf, and four sideshoots allowed to develop. These four shoots should be trained, two up and two down the row, in an X-shape and pegged lightly down with sticks or bent wire (unless you decide on fewer and better fruit, in which case allow only two shoots to develop and train these in opposite directions).
Pinch out the growing points of the sideshoots as soon as they have produced plenty of flowers and when they reach the cloche or tunnel limits, and select four even-sized fruits when these eventually begin to develop. Cut off the shoots bearing these fruits two leaves beyond the fruit and remove all the other fruits. Prune the plants so that they give a good leaf-coverage, but do not swamp the cloches.
You will need to prune the plants regularly throughout the season.
In most years young melons under cloches or in plastic tunnels will be too cold; keep them as warm as possible by sealing off the ends of the cloches with a sheet of glass or by staking down the ends of a plastic tunnel.
In hot weather, however, the melons may become too warm if you do this, so on hot days open the ends of the cloches or tunnel to ventilate. In very hot weather, shade the cloches as you would frames.
As the plants develop they need even more ventilation. In hot spells at the end of the season, space the cloches apart with a small gap between each one, or raise one side of a polythene tunnel, to allow more air to circulate.