The melon [ Cucumis melo ] is a member of the Cucurbit family along with squashes and cucumbers. It is unsure where melon’s first originated from, but it is thought most likely from Asia or Africa, rather than the USA. It is thought that Columbus introduced melon’s to America on his second expedition, carrying them as rations to ward off scurvy. Whatever their origins, melons are tender plants and need warm sunny conditions to thrive. Because of this, they are mostly grown undercover in the UK, though more cold tolerant varieties are being developed. The use of fleece or cloches can help to keep the plants warm in poor weather.
In April or May, sow the melon seeds on their sides 1/2 inch [ 1 cm ] deep in pots of moist seed or multi purpose compost. Place in a propagator or on a warm windowsill to germinate. Keep just moist but not wet as the seed can rot. Grow on inside or in a warm greenhouse. If you are going to plant outside, start to harden off in late May or June. Only plant outside after all risk of frost has passed. Watermelon seed can be started earlier if grown with some heat.
Planting – Outside.
Melons need a rich fertile soil, that is both free draining and moisture retentive. 3 – 4 weeks before planting out, add lots of garden compost or well rotted manure to the planting site. A good way to grow melon plants, is on a low mound. This gives good drainage and keeps the wet away from the stem. Water sitting around the stem can cause the stem to rot. Plant the melon into the top of the mound, then make a shallow moat around the base of the mound, to retain any water. This moat, will direct water to the roots where it is most needed. Giving the young plant the protection of a cloche or fleece will help it establish quicker and grow stronger.
Planting – Inside.
Melons will do better in the UK if planted in a greenhouse, polytunnel or coldframe. They can be planted into the soil, [ plant on a low mound, like outside ], a large pot or a growbag. They melon plants will grow and crop better in the warmth and protection of some type of growhouse. When planting in a pot of growbag, leave the base of the stem slightly proud of the soil. This allows excess water to drain away from the stem, wet compost or soil around the stem can cause the stem to rot.
If growing outside or inside in the border soil, you can allow your melon to trail across the ground, [ like a pumpkin ], or grow them up a support. If you are growing your melons in pots or growbags, then they will need some type of support, usually canes or string. If growing as a trailing plant, they can be kept under control by pinching out the side shoots after 3 or 4 leaves. If growing in a pot or growbag, keep tying in the main stem and again you can pinch out the side shoots after 3 or 4 leaves. This pinching helps to keep the plant growth under control and encourages the production of flowers. When any fruits have set, pinch out the growth, 2 or 3 leaves beyond the fruit. When your fruits have set, it is best to allow only one fruit per stem of the large fruited varieties. This will channel all the energy into the fruit to produce a nice large specimen. With the smaller fruited varieties, 3 or 4 fruits can be left to develop. The fruit of the large varieties may need extra support beneath them as they swell. A pair of tights or soft netting works well. For outdoor melons, a piece of board placed under the fruit will protect the bottom. Keep you melon plants well watered and fed duringthe growing season. Feeding with a comfrey or seaweed type fertiliser is recommended.
Melons grown outside should not need help with pollination, but those grown undercover, if your growhouse is kept closed up may need some help. The female flowers always have a small baby melon directly behind the flower. The male flowers just have a thin piece of stem. The flowers are quite delicate, so use a small paint brush or a feather to transfer male pollen to the female flower. Hand pollinating is easiest on a warm calm day, as this encourages more pollen to be produced.
When melons are ready to harvest, they give off a sweet honeyish fragrance, also the fruits may start to crack near the stem. Carefully cut the melon off the plant, leaving and inch or so of stem. If the melon is ready to eat, the base of the melon opposite to the stem, will give slightly when pressed.
Powdery Mildew. You will see a white powery deposit on the leaf surface. Keeping the humidity high around the plant will help prevent this..
Red Spider Mite. You will see a pale netting on the leaves, and mite may be seen on the underside of the leaves. Again increasing the humidity will help prevent infestations. Or try a biological remedy.
Varieties. Check out seedparade seeds
Canteloupe [ C.melo cantaloupensis ] : Orange fleshed varieties include, Ogen, Sweetheart, Edonis. Green fleshed varieties include, Galia, Outdoor Wonder.
Watermelon [ Citrullus lanatus ]: Varieties available include, Crimson Sweet, Sugar Baby.
Muskmelon [ C.melo ]: Small fruited very aromatic, Emir.
Melothria scabra also called the Cucamelon or Mouse melon. Climbing vine producing lots of gooseberry sized mini melons that taste like a cross between a melon and a cucumber.
They are many other melon varieties available, such as Sharks Fin and Honeydew melons.