Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Melon-calling gardeners

Texas and California are starting to churn out canteloupes and other melons (like the honeydew pictured at right). Full of vitamin A, C, and cancer-fighting antioxidants, fresh melon is a refreshing, flavorful, and healthy snack. The juicy orbs seep summer goodness, but they raise the question of why we can't grow our own.

Melons are some of the most rewarding treasures from the garden. And they don't have to take up a ton of room. While the vines may prefer to sprawl across the ground, they can be trained to climb sturdy trellises or fences -- just have some panty hose ready to use as support nets for the melons as they start to get larger.

Seriously. Little old men in Randolph County swear by this method.

The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide shares the secrets to success with melons.
You'll need:
  • Warm soil and air temperature. Sandy soil that has been amended with compost or composted manure provides excellent conditions for melons to sink their roots. Well-drained, rich, light-textured soil. Growing the vines in broad, raised mounds or rows, known as hills, ensures good drainage. Mulching with black plastic or an organic material such as straw helps to conserve soil moisture and keeps the fruit clean.
  • Full sun
  • Start melon seeds outdoors when soil temperatures reach at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit and all chance of frost is past. Apparently cold weather is coming early next week, so hold off a few days.
  • Water well. While melon plants are growing, blooming, and setting fruit, they need 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Deliver it early in the day and as close as possible to the crown of each plant to avoid splashing soilborne disease organisms onto the leaves. After fruit form and begin to grow, reduce watering but don't let the soil become too dry. Allowing melons to dry out a bit in the 3 weeks before harvest helps to make them sweeter.