Let’s Talk: Melons

Melons are something I can whole-heartedly recommend you grow- providing you have the space (and there are some varieties designed for small spaces!). Any melon you grow will be more succulent, flavorful, and appreciated than anything you can get at a farm stand or grocery store.

I’ll give my one caveat now: If you plant multiple plants of the same variety, they will all turn ripe around the same time leaving you awash in melons. It isn’t a terrible problem to have and it is easily averted by growing one (or two) plants of a few different varieties.

Melons are, in my mind, a huge bang for the buck. Most non-watermelon types don’t take up any more room than a cucumber or winter squash plant and eating them warm from the garden is truly one of life’s great pleasures. You can grow amazing varieties, any number of sizes, and each one of them will rival anything you can buy- at a far lower price point.

For each category, I”ll break it down between regular melons (cantaloupe and honeydew types) and watermelons to keep it a bit simpler. Onward!

Time to Maturity: Most melons are around 70-85 days to maturity. Watermelons are more in the 75-100 days, with most being closer to 90 days. This may make a big difference to you if your growing season is shorter. You can always use cloches, cold-frames and greenhouses to get a jump on the season if you want a longer maturing varieties.

Diseases & Pests: Fusarium, Powdery Mildew, Rust, and Watermelon Mosaic Virus are the shared enemies of both regular melons and watermelons. Watermelons, however are susceptible to Bacterial Fruit Blotch which is quite devastating to the fruits and can be terribly difficult to get rid of in your soil. I only every have issues with Powdery Mildew (knock on wood), but check with your local extension to see if any of these are major issues in your area and search for resistant varieties.

Key Words: Size descriptors are the most important to me, right up there with flavor descriptors. I look for words like midget, dwarf, petite (petit in French varieties). Watermelon descriptions will often have actual size ranges in pounds which is a fantastic indicator of just what you’ll be dealing with come harvest. In both I look for ebullient descriptions of flavor and intensity- I don’t want a weak flavored melon anywhere near me! I’m talking about phrases like “Intoxicating aroma”, “Superbly sweet, flavorful, and perfumed”, “sweet and luscious”… nothing as plain as “sweet red flesh”. Go for the gusto and you won’t be disappointed!

Use: Fresh eating! Doy! I mean, yes, you could turn a bounty into sorbet/granita or use them in cocktails. Muskmelon and prosciutto is a famous dish- rightfully so! You can slice them up and add them to salads or pickle the rinds. I just find that eating them, still warm from the sun ideally, plain and straight of the cutting board to be the best.

My Favorite:

Image via Baker Creek

Petit Gris De Rennes (2-3lb muskmelon). The flavor is intense and spectacular, all in a tidy little package easy for two to finish in short order. A truly lovely French melon I’d recommend to anyone. The plants aren’t monsters, I grew them under our tomato plants to great effect this year.

What I’ve Grown in the Past: Between the pest issue and the size issue, I’ve only grown a few melons in the garden. Plus, with just the two of us, its hard to take down a full watermelon without company or waste.

  • Minnesota Midget (small muskmelon), perfectly serviceable and tasty
  • Pride of Wisconsin (small muskmelon), same as above
  • Moon & Stars (large watermelon), the year I grew these we had an early frost and I didn’t get any mature fruit, plus the plants were monsters.

What I’d Like to Try:

Golden Midget (small watermelon)- this is an early variety, 70 days, and has yellow rind and traditional pink, sweet flesh.

Golden Midget Watermelon
Golden Midget, image via Baker Creek

Tigger (small muskmelon)- this has remarkable red and yellow striped rind and has white flesh that is, apparently, amazingly delicious.

Tigger Melon
Tigger Melon, image via Baker Creek

Kiku Chrysanthemum Melon ( small Japanese melon)- this is a white fruit inside and out with a flavor that has hints of lychee or pear.

Kiku Chrysanthemum Melon
Kiku Melon, image via Baker Creek

Now its your turn! What, if any, melons do you grow and do you find the space to harvest ratio worth it? What are your tips for growing long-to-mature varieties in colder climates?

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