Homegrown melons are absolutely 100% superior to their grocery store counterparts. Why? Because you can wait and pick them at just the right time. Store-bought melons are picked while they’re still a little green to allow for shipping time from the soil to the store. But at home, you can wait until the exact moment you’re ready to harvest, when the melon is at its peak…and waiting makes all the difference.
Growing Melons is Easier Than You Think
Melons need only a few things: rich soil, lots of sunshine, plenty of space, and warm weather. That’s it. Melons can take up lot of space, so plan accordingly. A single watermelon plant can sprawl over 50-100 square feet and only produce one or two fruits! Muskmelons, such as cantaloupes and honeydews, will provide much more fruit in a smaller space.
Melons need to be planted in the sunniest spot possible. They also need plenty of air circulation to prevent diseases. The soil should be loose and allow moisture to drain well. Because melons thrive in nutrient-rich soil, you should consider adding compost to the area around which you plant the seeds or transplants.
Melons are warm-weather crops and need heat to thrive. Therefore, you should make sure to wait until the soil has warmed before you sow your seed – or plant seeds indoors and transplant later on. If you transplant, make sure you harden off the seedlings before putting them into the garden. This is done by sitting the seedlings outdoors during the day and bringing them in again at night for a few days before you’re ready to plant.
Melons can be grown in rows or hills, but they tend to do better in hills. Check the spacing for each melon variety – melons like watermelon will need to be spaced as much as 6-12 feet apart while bush varieties require much less space between hills.
When sowing your seed directly into the garden, you will want to sow 3-6 seeds per hill no earlier than two weeks after the last frost. As plants begin to appear, thin down to only two plants per hill. For cooler climates, you may want to use hotcaps or black plastic around the seeds to ensure your seeds stay warm after planting. As we’ve mentioned before, warm and hot temperatures are vital for melons.
Mulch your plants with a few inches of organic mulch as soon as you see vines appear. This will help keep weeds down, diseases out, and critical moisture in. Be sure to water your plants with plenty of water, especially as fruits begin to develop. When you see fruits beginning to set, it is time to fertilize your melon plants with an all-natural fertilizer.
Though melon vines look very tough, they are actually quite fragile, so make sure you always handle them carefully. If they begin to sprawl outside the area where you want them to grow, gently guide them in the direction you want them to go.
Male flowers will appear first on the vine. About a week later, female flowers will appear. There will be many blossoms but very few fruits. Most vines will only produce 3 or 4 melons. Many, if not most young melons will grow to be approximately the size of a fist before they die back and shrivel away. This is okay, as they are sending vital nutrients back into the vines for the plants to give to the mature melons.
In cooler areas colder (typically zone 7 or less) remove any flowers and small fruits from the vines in late summer. These fruits won’t have time to fully mature before the first frost. they use up vital energy that should go into ripening the two or three larger fruits you’ve left on each vine.
Cucumber beetles, aphids and squash vine borers can be serious pests to growing melons. They often attack around the time the plants flower. If this happens, you can make tents of mosquito netting, or use floating row covers to protect the plant. However, you must remove these coverings when female flowers form so that bees can pollinate the plant. You can also remove beetles by hand or with a small handheld vacuum cleaner – just make sure you drown the beetles in soapy water to keep them from coming back.
Powdery mildew can attack your melon plants. Spraying baking soda and water onto your leaves may naturally stop the spread of mildew. Cut off and destroy affected branches if you can for best results in preventing the spread of the mildew.
When a melon is ready for harvest, it should break cleanly from the plant with very little to no pressure. Just twisting or lifting the fruit up should be enough. If this is not happening, you are likely trying to harvest too early.
There are many wives tales about how to tell if a melon is ripe or not – by thumping it and listening to its sound. This isn’t exactly true for all melon varieties and doesn’t always work. What works for one melon may mean the fruit is overripe for another. So your best bet is to go by when the fruit breaks easily from the vine with little to no effort.For watermelons, looking at the ground spot (where it lies on the ground) is helpful. A goldish orange or deep yellow color means its ready to harvest.
Melons are best fresh, but if you can’t eat them all right away, keep them in a cool, dry place for storage.