By E. VinjeTweet
Sweet and succulent, melons, such as cantaloupe and honeydew, can be a challenge in to grow in areas colder than zone 4. A warm season crop, they require hot, relatively dry summers and steady heat for at least 2-4 months. Growing melons in colder climates can be rewarding, but requires short season varieties and plenty of frost protection.
Choose a warm site that gets plenty of sun, such as along a south-facing building or wall. Make sure that the area is protected from strong winds as melons are vulnerable to cool temperatures. The planting area should be well drained and loose textured with lots of organic matter. Each spring, work plenty of compost into your growing area.
Tip: Use black plastic to warm the soil 2-3 weeks prior to planting heat-loving crops. After all risk of frost has passed, simply cut holes in the plastic sheet and plant seeds or seedlings through the holes.
How to Plant:
Seed should be sown 2 weeks after the last frost date. Space plants 8-12 inches apart in rows 6-10 feet apart. Melons may also be planted in hills, two plants per hill, with the hills spaced 2-3 feet apart. Black plastic mulch placed under the plants will warm the soil and speed harvest. It will also keep the developing fruit off the soil and prevent melons from rotting. Apply a balanced organic fertilizer 1/2 strength every three weeks once plants become established. Foliar applications of kelp extract (Maxicrop), especially during peak flowering, will “top-off” fertilization. To make melons sweeter, hold back water a week or so before harvest.
Note: Melons do well in moist, not wet, soils. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses can be used to direct water right to the plants’ roots. This will also keep the leaves dry, which helps prevent many fungal diseases.
Tip: After planting, cover the area with floating row cover to provide additional warmth and protection from insect pests.
Melons must be allowed to ripen fully on the vine as they will not mature once harvested. The trick is knowing when they are ripe. Watch for melons to obtain a mature color with the veins becoming more prominent and lighter. Ripe melons should “slip” or come off easily from the vine with a gentle pull. Allow 75-90 days to reach maturity from seed, depending on cultivar.
Insects and Diseases:
Insects that attack other cucurbits will also found in the melon patch. Among the most common pests are the cucumber beetle and the squash vine borer. They are also susceptible to plant diseases such as powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt. Look for disease resistant varieties when purchasing seed or nursery stock.
Seed Saving Instructions:
Melons will cross-pollinate, so isolate 1/4 mile from other varieties. Always save seeds from disease-free, early ripening fruits. Wash seeds in a strainer and dry. Seeds are ready to store when they break instead of bend.