Saturday, May 29, 2021

Growing melons and cantaloupe

Burpee "Bush Sugar Baby" watermelon
Saturday, May 29, 2021

Watermelons and cantaloupes are tropical fruits.  Watermelons likely originated in the southern African Kalahari Desert.  Watermelons were being cultivated in Egypt by 2000 BCE and wild seeds were found at an archeological site in Libya that were 5000 years old.  Egyptian depictions of melons(cantaloupes) date to 3000 years ago.  Wild melons are found in Africa, Asia, and Australia.  Watermelons came to the New World by Spanish and Portugese sailors at an early date.  They were used abundantly by Native Americans by the time colonists arrived.   

Watermelons, muskmelons and cantaloupes prefer the same growing conditions, the warmth and sun of summer.  They were a rarity in England, but grow well in the sunnier parts of Europe and flourished in the New World.  

For cantaloupes, you can start seed indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost, buy transplants or start directly in the garden.  For planting directly in the garden, plant seeds in late spring/early summer when soil temperature has reached 65 degrees F on hills, 4-5' apart.  Grow in well drained soil.  Melons are like Goldilocks, they don't like the soil too wet or too dry.  Too wet and they can rot or not be flavorful, too dry and their growth will be stunted.

For watermelons, you can sow indoors 3-4 weeks before the last frost, sow seeds directly in the garden when all danger of frost has passed or buy transplants.  Watermelons like a light soil so if you have heavy clay, amend soil with organic material to loosen and make hills 4-6" high.  Harvest after first tendril nearest the fruit turns brown and the underside of the melon turns from light green to a butter yellow.  Some can tell by thumping on the melon if it is ripe.  A hollow sound means it is ready to pick and eat!  Watermelon seed is viable for 6 years.  

Melons will cross with one another so if you want to keep pure seed, either plant only one variety or separate varieties by a half mile.

I grew a compact watermelon last year that can even be grown in a pot!  It is called "Bush Sugar Baby".  Being a bush type, it will stay compact and not have a vine that runs long.  It gets up to 2' tall and 2-3' wide and is ready to harvest in 80 days.  Each plant bears 2, 12 pound melons.  This year, I am trying 2 types of melons, one a Kentucky heirloom Ginger's Pride and a fun little melon called Tigger.  

I did start them indoors on a heated mat at the end of March.  I hardened them off on our covered patio for a few weeks and transplanted them into the garden a week ago.  It has been a cool spring so transplanting into the garden has been 2-3 weeks later than normal.  Melons love the hot weather so I wait until it is summer like before transplanting.  If you want to sow directly in the garden, now would be a good time in our area. 

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