Melon

Musk or rock melon – Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis, Casaba, honeydew, Asian melons – Cucumis melo var. inodorus, Watermelon – Cucumis lanatus

Melons are fruits, or berries (pepo) in botanical terms, closely related to cucumber and squash.

Melon

Introduction

Melons are fruits, or berries (pepo) in botanical terms, closely related to cucumber and squash. Sometimes in autumn you might pick an unripe melon to eat, when it has run out of time to ripen, and the flesh tastes almost identical to cucumber.

Melons were grown in ancient Egypt and further south in Africa. There is little certainty about how long ago they were domesticated. Possibly the first melon plants were developed in India and parts of Asia.

  • The one thing that all these places have in common is a hot climate.

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 90–110, according to warmth.
  • Best climate is a hot summer, with daytime temperatures of 24–35 °C/75–95° F.

Ripening Alvaro, a climbing melon, in the greenhouse during a hot summer – 10th August

Ripe Alvaro trailing melon in the polytunnel, on the same day

This Emir melon was sown on 28th April and only just made it; even by mid-September it is not especially sweet

Why grow them

It is possible to buy tasty melons. However, eating one that is freshly picked and homegrown allows you to experience an extra dimension of flavour, partly a result of that freshness. It’s not only the sweetness but other tastes too, which I wish I could describe in words.

Pattern of growth

The season of growth is short, but we can prolong it by early sowing under cover. Growth in the main season is rapid, during just the three summer months. By early autumn leaves start to die and fruits finish ripening.

Don’t underestimate the need for warmth, otherwise you may spend a lot of time and effort for little result. In cool summers it’s possible to have melons, but with little sweetness or flavour, and you will have used a lot of precious space. At Homeacres I grow them mostly under cover for decent harvests, but rarely enjoy success with outdoor melons.

Sweetest harvests come during the summer months rather than in early autumn, because sunlight is stronger and leaves have more light to convert into sugar. A ripe melon here in August is sweeter than a ripe one harvested in September, although the latter can surprise, when favourable conditions have allowed leaves to stay green.

Melon plants are killed by frost but rarely grow that far into the autumn.

  • Melons can self-pollinate, so one plant of any variety will give fruit. They also cross-pollinate with other varieties.
  • This is irrelevant for harvesting melons to eat because they are true to type; it’s just the seeds that will not be – see ‘Seed saving’ below
Mid-June – this climbing melon is at the first sideshoot stage
On the ground in the polytunnel you see less precise definition of sideshoots and vigorous growth, which needs some cutting back; in mid-July this Sweetheart plant is both growing stems and developing fruits
The same bed four weeks later in mid-August; strong growth has continued through to a harvest of several wonderfully ripe F1 Sweetheart melons

Video

Melon Growing and harvest, on the ground or up a string

Suitable for containers/shade?

Melon plants need full sunshine.

It is possible to grow them in a container, preferably a large one. The best method is to allow plant stems to trail on the ground, where they can soak up warmth from the soil or concrete. This means you need to allow space around your container.

Minnesota Midget could be a good choice. I have noticed how it adapts to conditions and can grow quite a small plant, with small melons for sure, when the root run is restricted.

Types

Muskmelons have rough and textured or netted skin, and most varieties have orange flesh.

Inodorus melons have smooth skin and flesh of varied consistency and colour, often pale green.

Watermelons have a hard skin and the flesh is more watery than other melons here, plus they need hotter conditions than the other two types, to mature their fruits. The photos below show how well they store, thanks to the hard skin.

21st February – this Early Moonbeam watermelon has spent five months in my kitchen since its September harvest

I cut it open and found this lovely looking flesh, but it was not at all sweet because it hadn’t been quite ripe at harvest

Varieties

  • Muskmelon or Cantaloupe

Minnesota Midget appeared in the 1940s – it is productive in cooler summers and tastes wonderful when fully ripe.

Sweet Granite is super early, of decent size and with classic orange flesh.

Prescott Fond Blanc needs warmth – it is a 200-year-old variety from France, with large fruit, like squash in appearance.

Kasakh goes from dark green to yellow-green when ripe, with pale green flesh – it has top flavour and sweetness even though green!

Hybrids such as Sweetheart, Alvaro and Emir grow big harvests of fine tasting fruits, up to 1 kg/2.2 lb in weight.

7th September – melon in the polytunnel, the first ripe Prescott Fond Blanc; they had looked fully grown for two weeks, then ripening was sudden

Autumn harvests on 28th September, with Prescott Fond Blanc melon in the middle; the tomatoes bottom left are Yellow Brandywine
  • Inodorus

Tiger melon is from Turkey and has tasty white flesh, a little soft when ripe.

Honeydew melons need more warmth than most musk melons. I grew them outdoors in Southwest France with good results, but they never had as rich a flavour as the local Cantaloupe melons.

  • Watermelon

Sugar Baby grows fruits up to 2 kg/4.4 lb in weight, and they take longer to ripen than the other melons described here.

Early Moonbeam lives up to its name and, thanks to its earliness, we can enjoy a sweet harvest herek when other watermelons don’t make it. The flesh is yellow not red, and fruits weigh up to 4 kg/9 lb.

12th August – Sweet Granite melon was the first to ripen in 2020

12th August – Tiger melons fully grown and unripe; they change from green to yellow

I gave no feed to these Minnesota Midget melons in the polyunnel, and they all ripened within 10 days in September

Video

Sow and propagate

  • Seeds germinate in six to nine days.

Sowing time

Melon seedlings grow a little more slowly than cucumbers. You can sow them up to two months before the last frost date – I used to do that, with marginal gain.

Now I sow four to six weeks before the last frost, when conditions under cover are warmer and brighter.

Sowing method

Lay seeds flat on top of compost in the module cell, one per cell, then push in slightly and add a little compost on top. Water fully so the compost is totally moist.

Trays need to be in constant warmth for the first week, above 21 °C/70 °F for best results. Once you see the first small green shoots, they need light.

They can be a little less warm after the germination phase, though always above about 13 °C/55 °F for strongest growth.

25th April, and 10 days after sowing – melons on the left, cucumbers on the right; melon seeds start more slowly and these were older, a year on from purchasing
29th April – potting on a second time; see how dry the compost is, though it’s wet enough
I am firming the melon plant into a slightly larger 10 cm/4 in pot, with the same potting compost

Pot on?

After four to five weeks, you probably need to transfer your module seedlings to 7 cm/3 in pots. A further potting on is not necessary, unless either the ground is not ready or it’s not warm enough to transplant.

  • TOP TIP: As with cucumber plants, do not overwater your melons in modules and pots. Compost that is half dry is fine, and better than it being fully saturated all of the time.

Transplant, interplant

Transplant size and time

See the photos above to give you the best idea of how plants need to be a fair size. A week or two beyond the last frost date is good for transplanting, so that soil and temperatures have warmed to a good level.

Transplant method

Use a trowel to make a hole slightly larger than the pot, and 5 cm/2 in deeper than the pot is high, to bury some of the lower stem. This is to have a sturdy plant on a stronger stem.

Spacing

45 cm/8 in is possible, but 60 cm/24 in is better, for leaves to have full access to light in order to grow sweeter fruits.

Water

Under cover, water two or three times a week and increase the amount once you see melons developing and swelling. Then decrease watering once they are mostly full-grown and starting to ripen.

The rate of growth is a little slower than with cucumbers, so the total amount of water needed is not quite so much, but still a decent amount.

Early Moonbeam watermelon in the greenhouse, trailing behind the seedlings
12th August – it’s almost harvest time of the first Early Moonbeam watermelon in the greenhouse
7th September – Early Moonbeam watermelon in the polytunnel where they were two to three weeks later in maturing

Extra mulch to retain moisture?

Worthwhile in dry climates. Commercial growers use clear polythene on soil for outdoor melons, which does not control weeds but warms the soil and retains moisture. Under cover, any undecomposed material is good on the surface, but in cool climates use only compost: a dark surface warms more readily than a light one.

Leaf and shoot removal

Little leaf pruning is needed, because lower leaves of melon plants stay green for quite a long time and are not so numerous as to cause problems.

The main tidying is to continue pinching off sideshoots, and new shoots from sideshoots, after about midsummer, once plants have a full complement of fruit. When cordon plants reach the top of their strings you can loop them over the top of the supporting wire and allow the main stem to grow down again. Or adapt however you can, given the space and support available, to keep the main stem growing for a little while longer.

19th June – the first sidehoots of Sweetheart in the greenhouse, which I removed
27th June – six weeks since being transplanted, the melons are now almost at the top of their strings in the polytunnel, with plenty of sideshooting needed

Support and pruning

Melon stems trail on the ground in the same way as squash. They also grow well as cordon plants, with a string in the hole before transplanting when you are growing them under cover. Exactly as for tomatoes and cucumbers.

Then the differences are in sideshooting. With cucumbers you remove all sideshoots, but with melons this would not work because the fruits grow and develop on the first node (where a leaf leaves the stem) of any sideshoot. Melons do not develop on the main stem but that is what most cucumbers do.

  1. Remove all sideshoots until plants are at least 1 m/39 in tall.
  2. Above this height, allow sideshoots to develop, watch for fruit growing on them and then pinch out the leading point beyond a melon, leaving one melon per stem of sideshoot.
  3. Plants do their own fruit pruning, so you notice little fruits rotting after several have set. If you want to limit any melon plant to a certain number of fruits, just keep pinching out new sideshoots, once the plant has your desired number of melons.

Four or five melons per plant ensures that ripening will happen more quickly than when there are larger numbers. In the photo above, you see an exceptional 12 Minnesota midgets on one plant, which amazed me. They did ripen eventually, in mid-September, and were mostly sweet too. I was lucky that early autumn was warmer than usual.

Harvest times and methods

How to judge readiness

Melons are the most fruit-like of all vegetables in this course, and probably of all that we grow. As a result, they have some fruity characteristics, of which one is a scent of ripeness.

  • It’s such a lovely moment in late summer when the first aroma of ripe melon fills the air, often a long way from where they are ripening – this is your first clue.
  • Before that, you may notice some cracking of the skin where a stalk joins the melon. That is also a sign of ripeness.
  • Another is any change of colour, to more yellow than previously.
  • And the skin will feel softer.

Watermelons are different because their skins do not soften, nor do they give us any lovely scent. The best clue of ripeness is to look at the little green pigtail of coiled tendril that comes out of the stalk of each fruit. Once this is changing from green to brown, the watermelon is ripe. (Thanks to Katja in Slovenia for this tip.)

A change of colour from green to pale yellow reveals the ripeness of these Sweetheart melons, plus the skin is cracking around each stalk; this was late, 18th September
August – delicious Sugar Baby watermelon and Sweetheart melons

How to pick

Simply cut the stalk with a sharp knife, while holding the melon in your other hand.

When fully ripe, a stalk easily detaches from the fruit, which is fine unless you want to store the melon for a few days because it now has an open wound.

  • This may be why it’s sometimes recommended to support melon fruits with a net. It’s not that the stalk is too weak to retain its melon securely, more that, once ripe, they risk falling off unless you check them every day at this point.

When to pick and storing

Picking at any time of day is good. If you pick melons before they are fully ripe, they continue to ripen in the kitchen or anywhere with ambient warmth. A slightly unripe melon has firmer flesh, with more and pleasing acidity compared to a fully ripe fruit. You have choices.

  • Pick before fully ripe if you want to keep them for longer before eating, and to avoid fruits falling off cordon plants.
  • Fully sweet melons are attractive to ants. This can be quite an issue with melons ripening on the ground on trailing plants; watch for first signs of ripeness and pick immediately.

Watermelons are good to eat for a month or more after picking at the ripe stage.

14th August, in the polytunnel – Edonis melon is still unripe during a cool summer; it has plenty of leaves above!
12th August – Kasakh melon in the polytunnel, fully grown but not ripening yet
Kasakh melon on 7th September, now fully ripe – they have hung a week already at this stage

Video

Melons are ripe! In the polytunnel.

Saving seed

Different varieties will cross-pollinate if growing nearby. It’s difficult to put a number on this distance because it depends how many obstacles are in the way and how many insects are flying.

  • One method is to grow just one variety in a designated space. I use the greenhouse, and grow one variety of melon and one variety of watermelon. They can ripen as normal and you wash plus dry seeds after separating them from the fruit, which you eat as normal.
  • Musk melons and inodorus (honeydew etc.) melons can cross-pollinate between the two types, being of the same species. As it happens this gives a nice result: Galia melons, with textured skin and pale green flesh.
  • Watermelons do not cross with the other melons listed here

Potential problems

Pests

Aphids

These are common in spring, until predators arrive. I give a little extra water when I see them, preferably in a way that washes many of them off the undersides of leaves. This reduces damage until ladybirds, hoverflies etc. arrive in early summer.

See the photos below of aphids on pepper plants, and how they recovered in summer.

Red spider mite (Tetranychus urticae)

These may multiply quickly in early summer and are then hard to control.

You can buy predator insects (Phytoseiulus persimilis). Order by mid-spring and they are delivered by post, on leaves which also have a few red spider mites. Place them on melon leaves, following which a balance of pest and predator establishes for several plants, through the whole summer.

  • The predators are expensive and they don’t survive winter!
  • One purchase of predators can suffice for melon and cucumber plants growing in the same structure under cover.

As with so many pests and diseases, the best cure is prevention. I find that well-composted, no dig soil grows plants with less likelihood of spider mites.

Disease

Downy mildew (Peronospora sparsa)

This thrives in damp conditions and on cooler nights, towards the end of a damp summer. You first notice yellow areas on leaves, which turn brown as the mildew takes hold. Removing damaged leaves can slow down the progress of the disease but is unlikely to stop it. Infected plants may die in three weeks unless dry sunshine returns, and the fruits are unlikely to be sweet.

  • When watering after midsummer, don’t wet leaves.

Plants with a big infection of downy mildew are best removed to the compost heap. It’s safe to compost them.

Downy mildew on melons in the polytunnel – 12th August 2016; notice a healthy pepper plant next to it, showing how diseases (and pests) are specific to plant families

And finally

Clear

It’s a quick job to cut surface roots just below the bottom of a main stem.

Or, if you have a string in the plant hole, stand with a foot on either side of the rooting zone close to the main stem, and pull. This removes the plant and string, while leaving most of its roots in the ground, and disturbs the soil very little.

Follow with

Melons finish in autumn, and the best transplants to set in the ground at that time of year are leaf-producing plants, for winter and spring harvest – any salads, chard, kale and spinach.

Also herbs such as coriander and parsley, which are frost hardy and slow to flower when transplanted in autumn. Growth in winter is slow, but you enjoy harvests over a long period.

Melon

Musk or rock melon – Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis, Casaba, honeydew, Asian melons – Cucumis melo var. inodorus, Watermelon – Cucumis lanatus

Melons are fruits, or berries (pepo) in botanical terms, closely related to cucumber and squash.

Melon

Introduction

Melons are fruits, or berries (pepo) in botanical terms, closely related to cucumber and squash. Sometimes in autumn you might pick an unripe melon to eat, when it has run out of time to ripen, and the flesh tastes almost identical to cucumber.

Melons were grown in ancient Egypt and further south in Africa. There is little certainty about how long ago they were domesticated. Possibly the first melon plants were developed in India and parts of Asia.

  • The one thing that all these places have in common is a hot climate.

Harvest period

  • Days from seed to first harvest: 90–110, according to warmth.
  • Best climate is a hot summer, with daytime temperatures of 24–35 °C/75–95° F.

Ripening Alvaro, a climbing melon, in the greenhouse during a hot summer – 10th August

Ripe Alvaro trailing melon in the polytunnel, on the same day

This Emir melon was sown on 28th April and only just made it; even by mid-September it is not especially sweet

Why grow them

It is possible to buy tasty melons. However, eating one that is freshly picked and homegrown allows you to experience an extra dimension of flavour, partly a result of that freshness. It’s not only the sweetness but other tastes too, which I wish I could describe in words.

Pattern of growth

The season of growth is short, but we can prolong it by early sowing under cover. Growth in the main season is rapid, during just the three summer months. By early autumn leaves start to die and fruits finish ripening.

Don’t underestimate the need for warmth, otherwise you may spend a lot of time and effort for little result. In cool summers it’s possible to have melons, but with little sweetness or flavour, and you will have used a lot of precious space. At Homeacres I grow them mostly under cover for decent harvests, but rarely enjoy success with outdoor melons.

Sweetest harvests come during the summer months rather than in early autumn, because sunlight is stronger and leaves have more light to convert into sugar. A ripe melon here in August is sweeter than a ripe one harvested in September, although the latter can surprise, when favourable conditions have allowed leaves to stay green.

Melon plants are killed by frost but rarely grow that far into the autumn.

  • Melons can self-pollinate, so one plant of any variety will give fruit. They also cross-pollinate with other varieties.
  • This is irrelevant for harvesting melons to eat because they are true to type; it’s just the seeds that will not be – see ‘Seed saving’ below
Mid-June – this climbing melon is at the first sideshoot stage
On the ground in the polytunnel you see less precise definition of sideshoots and vigorous growth, which needs some cutting back; in mid-July this Sweetheart plant is both growing stems and developing fruits
The same bed four weeks later in mid-August; strong growth has continued through to a harvest of several wonderfully ripe F1 Sweetheart melons

Video

Melon Growing and harvest, on the ground or up a string

Suitable for containers/shade?

Melon plants need full sunshine.

It is possible to grow them in a container, preferably a large one. The best method is to allow plant stems to trail on the ground, where they can soak up warmth from the soil or concrete. This means you need to allow space around your container.

Minnesota Midget could be a good choice. I have noticed how it adapts to conditions and can grow quite a small plant, with small melons for sure, when the root run is restricted.

Types

Muskmelons have rough and textured or netted skin, and most varieties have orange flesh.

Inodorus melons have smooth skin and flesh of varied consistency and colour, often pale green.

Watermelons have a hard skin and the flesh is more watery than other melons here, plus they need hotter conditions than the other two types, to mature their fruits. The photos below show how well they store, thanks to the hard skin.

21st February – this Early Moonbeam watermelon has spent five months in my kitchen since its September harvest

I cut it open and found this lovely looking flesh, but it was not at all sweet because it hadn’t been quite ripe at harvest

Varieties

  • Muskmelon or Cantaloupe

Minnesota Midget appeared in the 1940s – it is productive in cooler summers and tastes wonderful when fully ripe.

Sweet Granite is super early, of decent size and with classic orange flesh.

Prescott Fond Blanc needs warmth – it is a 200-year-old variety from France, with large fruit, like squash in appearance.

Kasakh goes from dark green to yellow-green when ripe, with pale green flesh – it has top flavour and sweetness even though green!

Hybrids such as Sweetheart, Alvaro and Emir grow big harvests of fine tasting fruits, up to 1 kg/2.2 lb in weight.

7th September – melon in the polytunnel, the first ripe Prescott Fond Blanc; they had looked fully grown for two weeks, then ripening was sudden

Autumn harvests on 28th September, with Prescott Fond Blanc melon in the middle; the tomatoes bottom left are Yellow Brandywine
  • Inodorus

Tiger melon is from Turkey and has tasty white flesh, a little soft when ripe.

Honeydew melons need more warmth than most musk melons. I grew them outdoors in Southwest France with good results, but they never had as rich a flavour as the local Cantaloupe melons.

  • Watermelon

Sugar Baby grows fruits up to 2 kg/4.4 lb in weight, and they take longer to ripen than the other melons described here.

Early Moonbeam lives up to its name and, thanks to its earliness, we can enjoy a sweet harvest herek when other watermelons don’t make it. The flesh is yellow not red, and fruits weigh up to 4 kg/9 lb.

12th August – Sweet Granite melon was the first to ripen in 2020

12th August – Tiger melons fully grown and unripe; they change from green to yellow

I gave no feed to these Minnesota Midget melons in the polyunnel, and they all ripened within 10 days in September

Video

Sow and propagate

  • Seeds germinate in six to nine days.

Sowing time

Melon seedlings grow a little more slowly than cucumbers. You can sow them up to two months before the last frost date – I used to do that, with marginal gain.

Now I sow four to six weeks before the last frost, when conditions under cover are warmer and brighter.

Sowing method

Lay seeds flat on top of compost in the module cell, one per cell, then push in slightly and add a little compost on top. Water fully so the compost is totally moist.

Trays need to be in constant warmth for the first week, above 21 °C/70 °F for best results. Once you see the first small green shoots, they need light.

They can be a little less warm after the germination phase, though always above about 13 °C/55 °F for strongest growth.

25th April, and 10 days after sowing – melons on the left, cucumbers on the right; melon seeds start more slowly and these were older, a year on from purchasing
29th April – potting on a second time; see how dry the compost is, though it’s wet enough
I am firming the melon plant into a slightly larger 10 cm/4 in pot, with the same potting compost

Pot on?

After four to five weeks, you probably need to transfer your module seedlings to 7 cm/3 in pots. A further potting on is not necessary, unless either the ground is not ready or it’s not warm enough to transplant.

  • TOP TIP: As with cucumber plants, do not overwater your melons in modules and pots. Compost that is half dry is fine, and better than it being fully saturated all of the time.

Transplant, interplant

Transplant size and time

See the photos above to give you the best idea of how plants need to be a fair size. A week or two beyond the last frost date is good for transplanting, so that soil and temperatures have warmed to a good level.

Transplant method

Use a trowel to make a hole slightly larger than the pot, and 5 cm/2 in deeper than the pot is high, to bury some of the lower stem. This is to have a sturdy plant on a stronger stem.

Spacing

45 cm/8 in is possible, but 60 cm/24 in is better, for leaves to have full access to light in order to grow sweeter fruits.

Transplant size and time

See the photos above to give you the best idea of how plants need to be a fair size. A week or two beyond the last frost date is good for transplanting, so that soil and temperatures have warmed to a good level.

Transplant method

Use a trowel to make a hole slightly larger than the pot, and 5 cm/2 in deeper than the pot is high, to bury some of the lower stem. This is to have a sturdy plant on a stronger stem.

Spacing

45 cm/8 in is possible, but 60 cm/24 in is better, for leaves to have full access to light in order to grow sweeter fruits.

Water

Under cover, water two or three times a week and increase the amount once you see melons developing and swelling. Then decrease watering once they are mostly full-grown and starting to ripen.

The rate of growth is a little slower than with cucumbers, so the total amount of water needed is not quite so much, but still a decent amount.

Early Moonbeam watermelon in the greenhouse, trailing behind the seedlings
12th August – it’s almost harvest time of the first Early Moonbeam watermelon in the greenhouse
7th September – Early Moonbeam watermelon in the polytunnel where they were two to three weeks later in maturing

Extra mulch to retain moisture?

Worthwhile in dry climates. Commercial growers use clear polythene on soil for outdoor melons, which does not control weeds but warms the soil and retains moisture. Under cover, any undecomposed material is good on the surface, but in cool climates use only compost: a dark surface warms more readily than a light one.

Leaf and shoot removal

Little leaf pruning is needed, because lower leaves of melon plants stay green for quite a long time and are not so numerous as to cause problems.

The main tidying is to continue pinching off sideshoots, and new shoots from sideshoots, after about midsummer, once plants have a full complement of fruit. When cordon plants reach the top of their strings you can loop them over the top of the supporting wire and allow the main stem to grow down again. Or adapt however you can, given the space and support available, to keep the main stem growing for a little while longer.

19th June – the first sidehoots of Sweetheart in the greenhouse, which I removed
27th June – six weeks since being transplanted, the melons are now almost at the top of their strings in the polytunnel, with plenty of sideshooting needed

Support and pruning

Melon stems trail on the ground in the same way as squash. They also grow well as cordon plants, with a string in the hole before transplanting when you are growing them under cover. Exactly as for tomatoes and cucumbers.

Then the differences are in sideshooting. With cucumbers you remove all sideshoots, but with melons this would not work because the fruits grow and develop on the first node (where a leaf leaves the stem) of any sideshoot. Melons do not develop on the main stem but that is what most cucumbers do.

  1. Remove all sideshoots until plants are at least 1 m/39 in tall.
  2. Above this height, allow sideshoots to develop, watch for fruit growing on them and then pinch out the leading point beyond a melon, leaving one melon per stem of sideshoot.
  3. Plants do their own fruit pruning, so you notice little fruits rotting after several have set. If you want to limit any melon plant to a certain number of fruits, just keep pinching out new sideshoots, once the plant has your desired number of melons.

Four or five melons per plant ensures that ripening will happen more quickly than when there are larger numbers. In the photo above, you see an exceptional 12 Minnesota midgets on one plant, which amazed me. They did ripen eventually, in mid-September, and were mostly sweet too. I was lucky that early autumn was warmer than usual.

Harvest times and methods

How to judge readiness

Melons are the most fruit-like of all vegetables in this course, and probably of all that we grow. As a result, they have some fruity characteristics, of which one is a scent of ripeness.

  • It’s such a lovely moment in late summer when the first aroma of ripe melon fills the air, often a long way from where they are ripening – this is your first clue.
  • Before that, you may notice some cracking of the skin where a stalk joins the melon. That is also a sign of ripeness.
  • Another is any change of colour, to more yellow than previously.
  • And the skin will feel softer.

Watermelons are different because their skins do not soften, nor do they give us any lovely scent. The best clue of ripeness is to look at the little green pigtail of coiled tendril that comes out of the stalk of each fruit. Once this is changing from green to brown, the watermelon is ripe. (Thanks to Katja in Slovenia for this tip.)

A change of colour from green to pale yellow reveals the ripeness of these Sweetheart melons, plus the skin is cracking around each stalk; this was late, 18th September
August – delicious Sugar Baby watermelon and Sweetheart melons

How to pick

Simply cut the stalk with a sharp knife, while holding the melon in your other hand.

When fully ripe, a stalk easily detaches from the fruit, which is fine unless you want to store the melon for a few days because it now has an open wound.

  • This may be why it’s sometimes recommended to support melon fruits with a net. It’s not that the stalk is too weak to retain its melon securely, more that, once ripe, they risk falling off unless you check them every day at this point.

When to pick and storing

Picking at any time of day is good. If you pick melons before they are fully ripe, they continue to ripen in the kitchen or anywhere with ambient warmth. A slightly unripe melon has firmer flesh, with more and pleasing acidity compared to a fully ripe fruit. You have choices.

  • Pick before fully ripe if you want to keep them for longer before eating, and to avoid fruits falling off cordon plants.
  • Fully sweet melons are attractive to ants. This can be quite an issue with melons ripening on the ground on trailing plants; watch for first signs of ripeness and pick immediately.

Watermelons are good to eat for a month or more after picking at the ripe stage.

14th August, in the polytunnel – Edonis melon is still unripe during a cool summer; it has plenty of leaves above!
12th August – Kasakh melon in the polytunnel, fully grown but not ripening yet
Kasakh melon on 7th September, now fully ripe – they have hung a week already at this stage

Video

Melons are ripe! In the polytunnel.

Saving seed

Different varieties will cross-pollinate if growing nearby. It’s difficult to put a number on this distance because it depends how many obstacles are in the way and how many insects are flying.

  • One method is to grow just one variety in a designated space. I use the greenhouse, and grow one variety of melon and one variety of watermelon. They can ripen as normal and you wash plus dry seeds after separating them from the fruit, which you eat as normal.
  • Musk melons and inodorus (honeydew etc.) melons can cross-pollinate between the two types, being of the same species. As it happens this gives a nice result: Galia melons, with textured skin and pale green flesh.
  • Watermelons do not cross with the other melons listed here

Potential problems

Pests

Aphids

These are common in spring, until predators arrive. I give a little extra water when I see them, preferably in a way that washes many of them off the undersides of leaves. This reduces damage until ladybirds, hoverflies etc. arrive in early summer.

See the photos below of aphids on pepper plants, and how they recovered in summer.

Red spider mite (Tetranychus urticae)

These may multiply quickly in early summer and are then hard to control.

You can buy predator insects (Phytoseiulus persimilis). Order by mid-spring and they are delivered by post, on leaves which also have a few red spider mites. Place them on melon leaves, following which a balance of pest and predator establishes for several plants, through the whole summer.

  • The predators are expensive and they don’t survive winter!
  • One purchase of predators can suffice for melon and cucumber plants growing in the same structure under cover.

As with so many pests and diseases, the best cure is prevention. I find that well-composted, no dig soil grows plants with less likelihood of spider mites.

Disease

Downy mildew (Peronospora sparsa)

This thrives in damp conditions and on cooler nights, towards the end of a damp summer. You first notice yellow areas on leaves, which turn brown as the mildew takes hold. Removing damaged leaves can slow down the progress of the disease but is unlikely to stop it. Infected plants may die in three weeks unless dry sunshine returns, and the fruits are unlikely to be sweet.

  • When watering after midsummer, don’t wet leaves.

Plants with a big infection of downy mildew are best removed to the compost heap. It’s safe to compost them.

Downy mildew on melons in the polytunnel – 12th August 2016; notice a healthy pepper plant next to it, showing how diseases (and pests) are specific to plant families

And finally

Clear

It’s a quick job to cut surface roots just below the bottom of a main stem.

Or, if you have a string in the plant hole, stand with a foot on either side of the rooting zone close to the main stem, and pull. This removes the plant and string, while leaving most of its roots in the ground, and disturbs the soil very little.

Follow with

Melons finish in autumn, and the best transplants to set in the ground at that time of year are leaf-producing plants, for winter and spring harvest – any salads, chard, kale and spinach.

Also herbs such as coriander and parsley, which are frost hardy and slow to flower when transplanted in autumn. Growth in winter is slow, but you enjoy harvests over a long period.