How To Grow - Melons


Melons are not difficult to grow. They are generally vigorous plants but to get a good crop you do need a good sunny planting position or some form of cover/protection such as a cold frame, cloche or greenhouse.

Soil Preparation

Melons like excellent drainage to thrive, so the best method is to grow them in raised beds that are 5 or 6 feet wide. The top of the bed should slope downward from a mound to induce water to drain away. If the water manages to collect in pools, it may lead to rotted fruits and other problems. The soil should be very rich in organic matter and phosphates.

Sowing and Planting

Direct seeding into your soil is possible but in the UK is if better to buy plug plants as they have been germinated early in greenhouses and will get away quickly when planted out in the warmer months. Plant into small hills and space the plants 4 or 5 feet apart to allow for their spreading nature. Small cloches placed over the tops of the plants will aid development enormously.

Looking After the Crop

Melons need heat to provide a good yield. In cold climates, cover the soil with black plastic to raise the soil temperature. In warmer climates, use straw or dried grass clippings over the top of newspaper. To increase your yield, use drip irrigation or a soaker hose beneath the mulch. A good source of phosphate fed regularly in small amounts will encourage good production. After the melons begin to produce, take care not to over-water the plants. Over-watering during the 3 weeks prior to harvest can produce melons with a watery, tasteless flesh.

To ensure a good harvest it is a good idea to ‘stop’ the growth of the individual runners. There is great debate as the exactly when this should be done. For most gardeners we suggest leaving the runners to grow to approximately 8 or 10 leaves then pinch out the growing point this will encourage the production of both male and female flowers and sideshoots. If you want to help fruit set it is possible to pick male flowers and brush them against the female flowers.

Once the fruit has set put a layer of straw or a block of wood under it, this will help keep pests at bay and keep the fruit warm which will help ripening.

Harvesting the Crop

When your melons obtain a mature colour, wiggle the stem where it connects to the fruit, if the stem comes off easily and leaves a concave end on the melon, the fruit is at 'slip' stage and is ready to eat.

Storage

Take care not to wash your melon until you are ready to eat it as washing it can encourage mildew and rot. Cantaloupe varieties in particular are very sensitive to ethelyne gases and will spoil very quickly. If you have picked your melons at a slightly under-ripe stage, they will ripen rapidly at room temperature in 2 - 4 days. Once your melons are completely ripe, they will store for 10 - 14 days in a refrigerator.


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