Sweet, juicy melons are a gardening favorite. Easy to grow, productive and delicious, what’s not to love?
It just wouldn’t be summer without slicing through the hard outer rind of a melon and devouring the sweet, refreshing wetness within.
Melons are members of the Cucurbit family, along with pumpkins, squashes, and even luffas! Within the melon family, there are several different groupings (by genus) of some familiar, and some not so familiar, melons:
How melons grow
Like their cousins in the squash family, melons grow on vines. Unlike other vegetables crops, however, each vine has both male and female flowers. The male flowers generally appear first and usually only last for one day. Melon pollen is very sticky, so wind pollination does not occur. Honey bees are needed to carry the pollen from one flower to the next. If there are not enough honey bees in your area, you can use a fine paintbrush to transfer the sticky pollen to the female flowers, or you can break off a male flower, remove the petals, and apply the pollen that way. [I collect the pollen-carrying stamen for hand-pollinating, just in case.] Female flowers can be identified by the miniature fruit (ovary) at the base of each blossom.
How to grow melons
Melon seeds are big and easy to work with. In the Bay Area, melons can be planted in May and June. They really love hot weather. Prepare the planting area by digging compost into the soil and creating hills. Each hill should be approximately 4 feet square. Plant 3 to 5 seeds, one inch deep and two inches apart, into the middle of each hill. Water the area well. Once your seeds have sprouted and grown into seedlings with a few sets of leaves, snip the smallest plants off at ground level, rather than thinning by pulling them out. This lets the remaining plant’s roots and helpful soil microorganisms stay undisturbed. Melons need to be watered every 2 or 3 days during the peak of summer. Sometimes even more. Regular watering can help prevent the fruit from splitting open. Side dressing melon plants with aged compost during the growing season also improves both crop quantity and quality. Side dressing simply means putting compost next to the plants and watering all those yummy nutrients into the surrounding soil. Easy and effective.
You may want to add a layer of straw or sawdust under your melons, to get them up off the ground. This helps prevent rotten areas, and insect and fungal infestation. Melons can also be grown in containers, towers, or straw bales, and trellised. The fruit itself will need personal hammocks if you use a trellis. You can tell a melon is ready to harvest when you see a slight crack around the stem where it is attached to the fruit. This is called the “full slip” stage. Crenshaw, casaba, and some honeydew varieties do not develop a slip. Casaba and honeydew melons can be stored for several weeks, while other varieties are best eaten right away.
Troubleshooting melon problems
Melons are susceptible to the same problems as cucumber, pumpkin, and squash. Use the symptoms listed below to find (and solve) your melon problems!
Cutworms, wireworms, crickets and grasshoppers, various beetles, earwigs, stinkbugs, and thrips may also try getting into your delicious melons, so be vigilant! (A light dusting of diatomaceous earth might help, too.)
All too often, gardeners hear the myth that members of the Cucurbit family can cross-pollinate. This is simply not true. Pollination between different species does not occur. What can happen is two different types of melon can cross-pollinate. In fact, that’s how Crenshaw melons came about - Persian melons were crossed with casabas.
As you prepare to start growing your own melons, be sure to Plant It Forward with any leftover seeds!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!