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Growing Melons ~ A success!

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default Growing Melons ~ A success!

Post by Guest on 5th October 2010, 6:16 pm

I was really pleased with my experiment to grow melons this year and can share the lessons learned. It is written with the temperate climate in mind but do not assume, wrongly, that I have “hot summers”. Unfortunately the vegetable beds are in a frost pocket and we had numerous nights of 6 deg throughout the summer. So hopefully this will inspire others to try these simple but divine fruits!

The first year I grew anything here was 2003. I grew some Cantaloup type Charentais melons from seed. These are a common crop in this area. I planted them in the sandy beds and casually looked after them, producing numerous very sweet, small melons, more than we could eat. It wasn’t until the end of 2003 season that I realized that the weather was just absurd, with 50degC and above in courtyards (higher than the thermometers could show), no rain between January and mid July, thousands of people dieing…tomatoes cooking on the plants.

2004 I repeated the procedure and got pretty much nothing in return. The next couple of years were similar and when the seed packet ran out I didn’t buy any more. I gave up!

But I love melons and fresh melons, grown well are exponentially superior to supermarket products so 2010 challenge was to grow melons. I was pleased to find Graines Baumaux selling a packet of 8 varieties mix for 3Euros that originate from Spain, Italy, America and France. These were listed as:
JAUNE CANARIA 3 - late yellow
CHARENTAIS - cantaloup
HALE′S BEST JUMBO – American oval, orange fruit
And I also had some SUGAR BABY – Water Melon
This was a chance to see what could be grown!

The problem with the mixture was that the individual varieties were not identifiable. So I planted 80 modules with as many “like” seeds sharing modules in mid March. They were happily nurtured in the propagator aiming for 20-25degC for germination, but then more probably at 20degC. I was wary when thinning as late varieties and ones that like warmer temperatures may look less strong but just need more time. I potted on about 30 plants including 1 water melon. I had decided to “sacrifice” to the experiment one 1m x 9m strip of one bed and 1x5m on another so that was really only room for maximum of 14 plants! I think I squeezed in 16 in the end. The beds are sandy soil with a lot of compost enriched with sheep manure.

I decided to use hoops that are 2 meters long when not bent, over the 1m stretch. These were put along the edge of one of the sandy beds that gets early sun. I invested in a 2mx10m perforated sheet of horticultural plastic for the cloche. The second cloche was made from 1.5m lengths of tube with solid, heavier duty plastic over them. I had to ensure that the hoops supporting the plastic sheets were above where I planted the melons as when it rained or condensation was heavy the plastic dropped sufficient moisture to rot off 2 of the early plants, before I realised my mistake.

I put the cloches in place perhaps not as early as I should have – I would say 2 weeks to warm the soil but it also must be kept moist. After hardening off the melon plants I planted them out under the cloches late May but the nights were cold and I would wait another week next time as I lost a couple of plants. All lost plants were replaced. The water melon survived but again I tried to ensure I chose a variety of plants, not just the strongest, to ensure a reasonable trail. As June proceeded they were all growing strongly but the flowers were not being pollinated until the weather warmed up after mid June. I would try pollinating with a brush next time for an earlier crop, especially if the cloches had to be closed for much of the day.

Watering is crucial. Each day I water the centre of the 1meter line where I knew the plants roots were. I did not water the edges where the fruits formed. I watered with the hose only ie no nozzle so the water flowed out into a restricted area without damaging the plant. Also, very importantly, the hose is very long and I deliberately left it out on the ground to warm the water in it during the day so the melons were warmed up in the early morning with the warm water. This, I think, really helped them.

I wasn’t too clinical about cutting back the plants. After the first cut at 5 leaves I tended to just keep the mass of melon growths to within the cloches! The Charentais (not surprisingly) developed and fruited first. The first ripe melon was from under the solid plastic, low cloche in the last week of July. By August the cantaloupes, yellow and Hales were ripening. Soon we were eating a melon a day. Then I had to make Melon confiture (excellent on vanilla ice cream) and we gave a couple away, fed friends etc. The yellows that I picked in early September were still being eaten late September. The green varieties are still being eaten now and are keeping extremely well. The Honey Dew was a late developer and in fact I have 3 ripening up by the green house as I didn’t want to throw the late developing plants away. The water melon gave one football sized fruit in mid August and one smaller one later.

The tastes of all the melons are beyond anything you can buy. The Charentais and Hales are rich and sweet. The Honey Dew is staggering with its devine flavour. The white fleshed yellow is cool and smooth. The green are pure delight on these autumn days.

The summary of lessons for me are:
• Warm the soil for 2 weeks and don’t plant out too early
• Use low cloches that keep the ground warmth in
• Water with warm water (early to warm the soil if necessary)
• Pollinate by hand if necessary
• Plant loads of varieties and revel in the fruits of your labours!


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