15 Nov 2021
Who can say no to a soccer-ball-sized-or-larger fruit of juicy sugary sweetness? A summer treat where one plant will grow multiple fruits to indulge in.
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If you want to try growing melons in this area, watermelon is the reliable one to choose. Smaller watermelons are easier, just because they take less time to grow to maturity than the enormous ones, leaving less time for something to go wrong!
Moon and Stars, and Sugarbaby are two smaller varieties. Warpaint, and Long Red are two of the more traditional monster sized varieties. All have been grown successfully in this area.
The growing requirements for watermelons (and most other melons) are very similar to those for pumpkins, so check that guide as well. These are the variations to note:
- Melons have lower disease tolerance than pumpkins.
- The soil temperature for melon germination is 15°C minimum, but it is worth waiting for or engineering (placing their pot near a brick wall) temperatures 28 – 30°C as the plants will be stronger and healthier if the seeds germinate quicker.
- Sow as early as possible to get them going. Melons are a desert plant. They do best in hot conditions at the end of their season to fully ripen. They take at least 12 weeks from sowing to picking. If you can time them to ripen around christmas or January, that’s perfect. So, get them going in September.
- Melons need a good amount of calcium (and a balancing amount of magnesium) to keep their fruit firm and strong. They don’t need as much phosphorus as pumpkins.
- If you are growing melons up a trellis, which is better for avoiding the fungal problems they can be prone to, the stems are NOT strong enough to hold the dangling fruit. Set up a bag or support to take the weight of the melon or it will fall off the vine before it is ripe.
- Although they need regular watering, a melon is mostly water after all, minimal watering is advised between planting out and the first flower to encourage the root system to grow as extensively as possible in search of water. A big healthy root system is a melon’s best defence against the various diseases that they are prone to. Water in after planting and don’t water again until flowering, unless the plant is stressed.
- Don’t water the leaves, this encourages fungus problems. Keep watering for the roots.
- Once flowering, water with small amounts often. As the fruit grows, shift to less frequent larger waterings. But do not let the plant get water stressed in doing this.
- And, less watering is also advised as the fruit is nearly ripe. This concentrates the sugars. Too much watering or rain too close to picking time (this includes right before picking) gives you bland flavoured melons.
- Melons can be scorched by the sun. They need to be turned to prevent this and to keep the colour even all over.
- Watermelons are ripe when a sharp tap gives a dull hollow sound (only reliable early in the morning when the fruit is cool), when the vine tendril nearest the melon has withered and died, and when the underside of the melon changes from white to cream / yellow. Leave about 5cm of stem on the watermelon as this helps prevent stem rot in storage.
- Melons do not get any sweeter after they have been picked. Make sure they are already ripe before picking.
- Store picked melons on their side. The stem and blossom ends are the weakest points.
Cucumis melo indorus
Most honeydew melons are worth trying to grow. They do alright here. Piel de sapo is a sweet stripey honeydew variety and there are the more familiar pale skinned green fleshed ones too. Grow as for watermelon except space plants half a metre apart instead of a metre and there are no recommendations on the orientation of the seed at planting. Honeydew melons are ripe when they ‘slip’ cleanly off their stem with minimal effort and no tearing. Most honeydew melons are commercially picked before they are fully ripe as they are too soft for transport otherwise. Honeydews take 10 – 16 weeks from sowing to picking which is a bit quicker than watermelons.
Rockmelon / cantaloupe
Cucumis melo reticulatus
Rockmelons get a special mention. Although they are closely related to honeydew melons, they are NOT reliable here. They don’t cope particularly well with our wet and humidity. They need much better airflow and drainage than the others. They are a bit hit and miss for creating lovely melons, depending on the season. If we have a dry spring and early summer (no major rains until mid January) then they do fine. If you want to give them a go, Hales Best is the recommended variety to try. It’s an heirloom with good flavour. Rockmelons will cross with honeydew melons and the growing advice is the same.
Some lesser known melons you might be interested to try. Each has it’s peculiarities, hence just a passing mention.
Jam melon / citron melon / pie melon
Although these can be eaten raw they are not sweet or appetising. This is a melon usually grown for it’s incredible pectin content and lack of flavour which makes it ideal for jam making. Adding a few chunks of jam melon will set a preserve. It’s an old heirloom and is believed to be an ancestor of the watermelon. It has a hard skin so stores well. The vines are drought tolerant, hardy and prolific – 50 melons each! The melons are often little, about the size of a grapefruit but can grow up to soccer ball size. Grow as for watermelon, and they will cross with watermelon.
I have struggled to find people who have grown jam melon in this area. Being so closely related to watermelon and being so hardy and prolific they should grow well here.
Pepino and pepino berry
Solanum muricatum and Solanum caripense
These two are getting a mention because they grow themselves in this area, they are tasty and perennial melon plants – far less work than annuals. However they come with a caution as large as their advantage. These melons are absolute fruit fly magnets AND rat magnets. You may not want them around just because of the way they bring these major pests into your garden.
Both plants are low sprawlers. They are called ground covers but they don’t do that good a job of covering the ground. Pepino is a goose egg to grapefruit sized melon, yellowish with purplish stripes when ripe. The flavour is in the realm of honeydew or rockmelon with a hint of cucumber. It’s lovely. Pepino berry is the size of an oval cherry tomato and otherwise very similar to pepino, maybe a bit tarter in flavour. Hold off eating the pepino until they are really yellow as they won’t be sweet until then. They can be picked a bit early to foil the garden critters and left to ripen on the bench. The skin can be eaten but usually isn’t. Pepino berry is ripe at a yellow / light green colour and you eat the whole berry.
Pepino is a relatively hardy plant which suffers from a whole load of pests and diseases. Commercially it is grown as an annual because of this, but backyard growers don’t tend to report major issues.
These are part of the tomato family and have broadly similar growing requirements. They need a frost free location though they can handle down to -2.5°C for short periods, lots of food but not too rich in nitrogen, and a free draining soil. They have shallow roots so they easily suffer from water stress and weed competition. Mulch! They do well in dappled or full sunlight but are a bit hungry to plant under fruit trees which would otherwise be ideal. Pepino is recommended to be staked or trellised to support the heavy fruit which will otherwise bow the branches down and lie on the ground. Trellising is said to increase the amount of fruit.
The plant grows to about a metre in height and width. It grows most easily from cuttings – take a woody section with some leaves at the top, or via air layering – leave it about a month. Pepino will fruit 4 – 6 months after planting, as long as this coincides with night temperatures being above 18°C.
Also to: Phil & Carole Helman, Michele Morozumi, Jeff Alcott, Jeff Holmes, John Vernon, Pete Bufo, Tim Hill, Synchronicity Farm
Supported by Bellingen Shire Council via the Bellingen Shire Disaster Recovery and Resilience Grant Program Funding
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Honeydew / Rockmelon
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2. Rockmelon and honeydew information kit (1997) reprint Part 4 [Internet]. Agrilink – Department of Primary Industries, Queensland; 1997. Available from: https://www.melonsaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Rockmelon-and-honeydew-information-kit-Part-4.pdf
3.Rockmelon and honeydew information kit (1997) reprint Part 6 [Internet]. Agrilink – Department of Primary Industries, Queensland; 1997. Available from: https://www.melonsaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Rockmelon-and-honeydew-information-kit-Part-4.pdf
4. Rockmelon Agronomic Guidelines [Internet]. Applied Horticultural Research; 2017. Available from: https://www.melonsaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Agronomy-of-rockmelons.pdf
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3. Sustainably growing pepinos | Sustainable Gardening Australia [Internet]. [cited 2021 Nov 9]. Available from: https://www.sgaonline.org.au/pepino-a-perennial-fruiting-shrub/
4. Solanum caripense. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Nov 10]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Solanum_caripense&oldid=1029015753
1. Buy MELON – Jam (Preserving, Red Seeded Citron) seeds Online [Internet]. Happy Valley Seeds. [cited 2021 Nov 9]. Available from: https://www.happyvalleyseeds.com.au/products/melon-jam-preserving-red-seeded-citron
2. Organic Vegetable Seeds Online – Melon to Mustard [Internet]. Green Harvest. [cited 2021 Nov 9]. Available from: https://greenharvest.com.au/SeedOrganic/VegetableSeeds/MelonToMustard.html