The melon family, (Cucumix melo) is a much larger family than most people are familiar with. And like many families, its members range from the ordinary, extraordinary, to the odd. One melon missing from this family is the watermelon. It belongs to an entirely different classification, (Citrullus lanatus), but both families thrive under the same growing conditions.
Not all melons are sweet. Melons are thought to originate in Africa and many melons are grown for pickling rather than eating or used as a summer squash in various dishes.
Here in America we have fixated on the sweet melons which are definitely worth a gardeners attention because these juicy gems pack up the sugar during the final growing days. This irresistible sweetness will be lacking in a store bought melon.
When a melon is ripe in the field you can actually smell it. Interestingly in Europe before the luxury of daily bathing fragrance melons were grown. Ladies of the upper class carried a small pocket melon called Queen Anne's to mask the effects of no daily bath.
Types of Melons
All varieties of Cucumis melo will cross with each other. They will not cross with watermelons or any members of the Cucurbitaceae family.
I mentioned this is a large family of many unfamiliar members, well there are 7 subspecies of recognized groups of melons.
True cantaloupes are not the "cantaloupes" which Americans are familar with. True canaloupes are grown in Europe. They have rough scaled rinds with mature fruit that does not slip from the vine. The skin is not nettled
Chito melons are small lemon sized melons used for pickling. They include mango melon, garden lemon, and melon apple.
Are oblong or club shaped fruits grown in Aisa. They too are used for pickling
Queen Anne's pocket melon
These are also known as pomegranate or plum granny. They are very fragrant and about the size of an orange.
The popular Armenian cucumber is in this group. They are also called Snake melons. Armenians always have a place in my garden they are delicious eaten fresh or can be pickled.
This group includes honeydew, crenshaw, and casabas. Their flesh is either white or green.
The common muskmelon which Americans call the cantaloupe are in this group as well as Persian melons. They have the familiar nettled rind and firm orange flesh. As gardeners know, they slip from the vine when ripe.
If learning of the many subspecies of melons has intrigued you, and you are already planning on planting some new exotic variety, then you will want to check out these seed sources.
Melons love to bask in the sun and are heat loving so planting in the sunniest spot of the garden is helpful. In cooler climates putting down black or red plastic mulch will warm the soil more to their liking. Hot caps or low tunnels may be necessary in some zones. I am in Zone 5 and plant the end of May up until mid June.
Melons need a loose soil and rich in organic matter. Direct sowing in the garden seems to work best.
Dig a 1' x 1' hole and mix in a compost or aged manure along with a handful of dry organic fertilizer: 1 part blood meal, 2 parts bone meal, 1/4 part azomite or green sand. Mix the amendments well and pat down.
Plant 3 seeds 3x the width of the seed in each prepared area.
Be sure to leave plenty of room for the vines. Space 6' apart and alternate plantings between closely placed rows. Melons also do well in a raised bed with a short trellis nearby to grow on.
As the plants begin to vine put down a thick layer of mulch to prevent drying out and protect leaves from soil borne disease.
Water generously especially when fruiting. Drought stressed plants will not be as productive nor as sweet.
The male flowers are the first to appear. Perhaps it's an ego thing. They appear at the leaf joint on the main stem and on large side shoots. Female flowers form later on secondary side shoots. Melons produce many flowers but each vine will probably only mature 3-4 fruits. Melons abort a large majority of female blossoms. Gardeners get concerned when they see an egg sized melon shrivel up and die. This too is normal. The energy from that fruit is absorbed into the vine. Remember only 3-4 fruits mature per vine.
Melons benefit from additional fertilizer. Fertilize with fish emulsion and sea kelp when the true leaves appear, blossoms appear and fruit sets. A manure tea is also beneficial.
Handle with Care!
The vines are very fragile and do not like rough handling. If you have to redirect them do so gently.
Disease and Pests
Prevention the best option. Do not over crowd plants so the leaves dry out during the day. Overhead watering is not recommended. Be sure to rotate each year where you plant melons. In between your plantings of melons you can plant dried beans to better utilize space.
Disease Prevention Spray
I have found it beneficial to spray mature vines periodically with Neem, Serenade, and sea kelp . Serenade is a bacteria used to prevent or stop colonization of fungus. Neem is a systemic fungicide and pesticide. Both are safe for beneficial insects.
Striped and Spotted Cucumber Beetle
As the beetle feeds on your plants it not only damages leaves but can spread bacterial wilt. Bacterial wilt causes leaves to wilt. To determine if it is bacterial wilt pull a stem apart. If it has a sticky white substance inside, it is probably bacterial wilt and the entire plant should be removed.
Row covers can be used to protect plants until the female flowers develop. Bees and small flies are necessary for pollination so covers need to be removed at that time.
Appears as white areas on leaves. The fungus will use some of the vine's sugars to fuel its growth which may result in less sweet melons. Prune off newly infected leaves. Neem oil, Serenade,or a homemade mixture of 1 tsp baking soda to 1 qt of water can be used to stop the spread.
Routine Prevention Spray
I have found it helpful to spray periodically with the following combination in a one gallon sprayer:
Neem is both a systemic pesticide and fungicide. Serenade is a fungicide. Sea Kelp a foliar fertilizer and Kaolin Clay (Surround) a deterrent.
When a muskmelon is ripe is smells ripe and will slip from the vine when you press where the vine connects to the fruit. The skin between the netting also turns from green to tan or yellow. The netting becomes very rough.
Honeydew are very smooth when immature. As the mature they develop what looks like stretch marks and a sticky surface.
Enjoying Your Melons
Be sure that you plant a variety you actually want. Remember not all melons are the sweet fresh eating type so choose a variety to suit your purpose.
Fresh eating is the best way to enjoy melons. If I have too many ripen at once I cube and freeze them for smoothies or juicing.