Growing up, I spent much of my summer holidays on my grandparents cattle ranch in the Kettle Valley. We would travel to Osoyoos to shop and on the way home we would stop at fruit stands to pick up fruit for eating and canning. We often bought melons picked that day from the field; I love melons any time but there really was something about these fresh ones that captivated me. Growing up I always wanted to grow melons but found the idea daunting. Well now we grow watermelons, cantaloupe and honeydew with very good success. My kids love when we take a cutting board and knife into the field and cut up a melon to eat right there – nothing tastes as sweet! Melons are a hit with our customers as well and we have people who line up early at our market stall just for melons late in the summer. Melons are not a beginner plant but if you understand what they need you can grown them with good success.
Location is critical with melons. You absolutely need a sunny location that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. The majority of melons also sprawl, so they need room. Honeydews, cantaloupes and personal sized watermelons can also be successfully grown on vertical trellises. We plant our melons 2 feet apart. There are some bush or semi-bush melon varieties that can be grown successfully in pots or small spaces as well.
Melons are heavy feeders which mean they need lots of nutrients. You want well drained soil that is rich in organic matter which means you want lots of compost mixed in. We add chicken manure and sea kelp into our soil as well. Alternatively, you could use a balanced organic fertilizer at the base of each plant.
Melons can be direct seeded, however, they are slow to start and need lots of heat to germinate. We start our seeds inside 3 weeks before we plan on transplanting. We transplant our melons into the field 2-3 weeks later than most of our other transplants to ensure that temperatures are warm not just in the day but at night time as well.
We start our seeds in 2 inch cells and use heat mats to ensure good germination rates. It is important to keep the light source within a couple of inches of the seedling so that the seedlings do not get leggy. Leggy melon seedlings do not transplant well!! Refer to my seed starting post for my top tips on seed starting.
Bring on the Heat!
Melons need lots of heat in order to ripen. One of the easiest ways to boost the heat is to mulch around the bottom of the plant. We use black plastic around our plants which raises the temperature of the soil by at least 5 degrees. If nights are cool, you can also put row cover over the plants or a low tunnel, just make sure that once plants are flowering you remover the cover to allow for pollination.
Melons need consistent water and lots of it, especially during the fruiting season. They are susceptible to mildew so overhead watering isn’t a good idea. Drip irrigation is the best option. If you don’t have drip irrigation you can put a hose at the base of the plant with just a trickle of water going and leave it there for about 15 minutes at a time.
If you grow watermelons, seedless options are always appealing but for pollination purposes you need to make sure that you are also growing a seeded variety. We actually find that the seeded varieties are actually often sweeter than the seedless. You need at least one seeded plant for every 10 plants of seedless to ensure good pollination.
Depending on what variety you are growing, there are a few ways to tell when melons are ready to be harvested. However, if you are growing honeydews or cantaloupes, you will know they are ready when they slip off the vine. With watermelons, the tendril at the base of the stem should be brown and dry and there should be a yellow spot on the bottom of the melon where it sits on that ground. It takes a bit of practice to learn perfect ripeness but those are good rules of thumb!
There are so many varieties out there. We try some new varieties each year and there are so many we haven’t yet tried yet but to date here is a list of our favourites:
- Diana Watermelon
- Mini Love Watermelon
- Sorbet Watermelon
- Diplomat Honeydew
So if you are up for a challenge with a big pay off, give melon’s a try this summer!