melons & watermelons

How to Grow -Watermelon

homegrown watermelon

Ready to eat, in assorted sizes.

Although related to cantaloupe, cucumbers, and squashes; watermelon stands alone.
When you grow your own you’ll find out what I mean- and how it got it’s name. Oh, and be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand.

how to grow moon and stars watermelon

Moon and stars watermelon plants.

Plant your seeds the same way you would winter squashes, 3-4 to a hill. Give them a good full sun and a well-drained fluffy soil.
Watermelon does love some moisture, so mulching is recommended.
Just note that some pests like to hide under mulch, so you may want to pull it back a bit, depending on what critters are in your garden.

how to grow watermelon in the home garden

Protecting the babes.

Our issues were with those rascally rabbits, so the solution was to hide the fruit. In previous years I’ve used cardboard boxes, but this time I tried out some plastic buckets instead. The boxes stay damp and can cause issues in a wet summer.
You’ll see I punched some good drainage holes, and this worked well enough that we even saved a few melons that they had found first.

protecting the watermelon

The bunnies found this one first.

Space your hills a good distance, watermelon vines can easily grow 8 ft. or more. Once you have a few good fruit going, pinch off the other flowers so your plants will put their effort where it’s most needed.

watermelon in the home garden

Getting bigger.

One of the FAQ’s we get is on harvesting watermelons.
At the market you ‘thump’ on them to see if they are ripe, right? Well, that works in the garden as well.
You can also tell (unless you use plastic buckets) by looking at the spot where the melon was touching the ground. When it starts yellowing, the melons are ready.
The last way to know if it’s time to harvest is by looking at the tendril nearest the fruit, when it begins to turn brown it’s time to pick.

homegrown heirloom watermelon

Save those heirloom seeds.

Botanical name: Citrullus lanatus
Yield: Most varieties produce 1-2 fruit, some as many as 5.
Days to Maturity: 80-100 days, depending on variety, when direct seeded.
Storage: Can be held fresh for a week or two; can be made into jelly, sorbet and watermelon rind pickles, or frozen as melon balls. Don’t defrost completely before serving.
Pests: Cucumber beetles, plant radishes nearby to help repel them.
More on melons.

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A Gardener’s Dilemma

Starting melon seeds indoors would give us a bit of a jump on the harvest, so I gave it a shot with these fabulous heirloom seeds.
Unfortunately my set-up wasn’t what it should be, only one seed did manage to sprout from the cell pack.

moon and stars watermelon

beautifuls!

I built a nice mound and planted the lonely seedling.
Not wanting to waste anything, I also dumped in the remaining starting soil from the container.
Now I know you can plant 3-4 melons per hill, so I put 3 more seeds in the hill.
Or was it 4?

baby melon plants

how many do you see?

“Sharing” is right I guess, as all the seeds sprouted.

What else could a gardener do?

~Trellis? These melons easily grow to over a foot long.
~Thin back to 3-4 plants? I couldn’t bear it.
~Remove and replant a few? Unfortunately, all the garden is taken.

moon and stars watermelon plants

now how many?

Seven watermelons to a hill is a lot! Though, I have an idea how I might make it work.

As a gardener- what would you do?

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Let’s Talk More Melon

Choosing which variety of melon to try may be the hardest part of growing them.

assorted melon

watermelon and 2 types of cantaloupe

I’d suggest you start by asking yourself a few questions:

1. Do I want to save the seeds?

If the answer is yes, you’ve narrowed your choices down to heirloom and open-pollinated seeds.

There are a number of companies that sell only heirloom and non-hybrid seeds, such as Baker’s Creek, Hudson Valley Seed Library, and The Seed Savers Exchange.

Other companies, such as Johnny’s Seeds, offer both and clearly indicate which is which.

Sakata Seeds offers very developed hybrids that are wonderful for standing up to nasty conditions.

melon seeds

be sure to label them well

Speaking of which-
Whether you answered yes on no to the above, you also need to consider:

2. What are my growing conditions?

You may choose a melon specifically because it has a shorter growing season than others, or because it is resistant to things like powdery mildew.
If you are new to gardening, this is where I’d suggest you call your local cooperative extension.

Try to contact them early, and in the off season- when they’re not as busy; and ask what diseases you need to look out for.
We get Powdery Mildew around here, and it can take out a crop pretty fast.

3. What do I like to eat?

If you love cantaloupe, but not watermelon, this helps narrow it down as well.
Though if you’re like Mandolin, you may just think you don’t like watermelon because you’ve never had a homegrown one before.

Hmm…I feel that way about Honeydew. I think I’ll need to try a homegrown one.

juice featuring cantaloupe

Golden Nectar

4. What about space?

The last thing to consider is how much room you have.
Melons are a vining crop, but they don’t grow naturally ‘up’ as much as ‘out’.

They can be tied to a trellis, but remember to give the fruit individual support as the vine may not carry that weight well under those conditions. I’ve seen photos of creative gardeners using pantyhose tied to a fence or trellis to hold the fruit, expanding as the melons grow bigger.

Previously I’ve just let them grow into the pathways, but I think I’ll do it different come spring.
I’m going to give the pantyhose a shot, as I think this will have the added effect of keeping the fruit away from the critters.

This is what I do:

-I grow open-pollinated cantaloupe and save the seeds. I watch for early signs of powdery mildew and have my Neem spray ready.
-I also grow open-pollinated Sugar Baby watermelon, for the small size.
-I try out an heirloom variety each year, for the fun of. This year it was Banana Melon, unfortunately it didn’t work out as well as I’ve liked.

But that’s another post.

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Let’s Talk Melon

watermelons

baby melons in the wild

There are two basic kinds of melon in the family Cucurbitaceae-
Melon and Watermelon.

Watermelon aka Citrullus lanatus is most commonly a red-fleshed fruit, but also has varieties that will produce yellow, pink, and even orange fruit.
Hybrid types can be grown to produce a melon without seeds, and in a variety of sizes.
I prefer the smaller fruit as we can easily eat one at a meal before we need to cut into the next.

cantaloupe

2 types of cantaloupe

Melon or Cucumis melo, encompases many more varieties, for example:
Muskmelon, Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Crenshaw and Charentais. Even amongst these can be found many variations.

banana melon

underripe and overripe

Watermelons and Melons take about 75-85 days to grow.
I often get asked “How do I know when my melon is ripe?”

For watermelons, that’s pretty easy- knock on the fruit and see if you hear a ‘thunk’ sound.
You can also tell when the spot where the melon meets the ground turns yellow.

For Melons it’s harder, because not all show ripeness the same way.
You may see a color change, for example, my Banana Melons turned from a greenish color to yellow.
Some Melons will pull off the vine easily when they are ripe, but not all.
Until you get the hang of it, see what the seed catalog says for the type you are growing. After a while it’ll become second nature.

chicken love watermelon

grow some for the Ladies

Choosing which variety to grow may be the hardest part.
We can look at that in the next post this Friday.

breakfast melons

melon on a plate and melon in a glass

Until then:
How to Grow- Cantaloupe
Golden Nectar Juice

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How to Grow – Cantaloupe

cantaloupe sprout

babies

Cantaloupes are a heat loving plant that can be grown in cooler climates, like here in Zone 5, with just a little extra care.

cantaloupe vine

3 week old cantaloupe vine

Don’t start seeds inside any sooner than 3 weeks before your last spring frost.
Warming the soil before setting out plants or seeds will help give them a boost.

You can keep the area warm by using black plastic, with heat absorbing stones or bricks, as well as by using a row cover. All these will help hold the heat and get your vines up and growing fast.

homegrown cantaloupe

my melon

If they haven’t yet outgrown their enclosure by the time they start to flower, remove the cover anyway so pollination can take place.

The fruit are ready to harvest when you can pull them from the vine easily.

homegrown cantaloupe

mmmmmelon

Cantaloupe can be cut from the rind, cubed and frozen; be sure to serve before they are completely defrosted. Or freeze in a simple syrup.

My favorite way to store them is by making Golden Nectar Juice – mmm, loveliness in a glass all winter long.

Botanical name: Cucumis melo
Yield: Multiple fruits per vine.
Spacing: 18″ apart or 3 to a hill, 4′ apart
Days to maturity: 70-80 days
Harvest: When the fruit comes off the vine easily.
Storage: Frozen as mentioned, or canned as a juice or relish.

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