When you hear the melons, often the first thing that comes to mind is watermelons or perhaps cantaloupes. But the melon category offers much more than the average juicy, green-striped dessert of summer picnics including muskmelons, honeydews, charentias, and crenshaws. No matter which melon tickles your tastebuds, this fruit is easy to grow and one of the sweet pleasures of summer.
Melon seeds can be started indoors four weeks before the last frost date and transplanted outdoors when soils reach 60-70 degrees regularly. But melons grow equally well if they’re planted directly into the garden bed. In both cases plant the seeds 1″ deep. They require full sun, and well-draining soil and adore nutrient-rich soil — so don’t hold back on the compost.
All melons love warm soil and can stop producing when the weather turns mild. Many gardeners lay black plastic down onto the soil and secure it to the edges of the bed with a staple gun. Then holes are cut into the plastic so that the young melons can be planted into the hole. Black plastic is a terrific solar collector that helps soil heat up and the melons mature quickly.
While the plants and immature fruit are growing, avoid intermittent watering schedules. Melons enjoy regular, even watering (not water-logging, however) and the fruit may suffer otherwise. That fabulous melon flavor shows up in the fruit during the last two weeks on the vine. So, at that point, ease up on the watering without letting them dry out entirely. The idea here is that they will develop less flavor if they’re heavily watered close to harvest time.
How to Harvest Melons
I’ve noticed that watermelons show several signs of being ready for harvest: If it sounds hollow when thumped with your middle finger and thumb; when the fruit has a dull rind instead of it’s youthful shine; and when the little tendril on the vine by the watermelon stem is brown and shriveled. Other melons should be harvested “on full slip”, which means that the fruit slips easily off of the vine when you press your thumb onto the stem base.
Did you know that the melon which we Americans refer to as a “cantaloupe” isn’t a true cantaloupe at all? These are actually “muskmelons”. True cantaloupes are usually grown in Europe and have a hard, warty shell. The North American muskmelons have a soft “netted” shell.