Melons are some of the best things about summer, deliciously cool and refreshing on hot days. Although the watermelon is the largest, its only one of a number of melons in the melon family, including cantaloupe, crenshaw and honeydew, all juicy and all loaded with Vitamin C. Growing requirements are the same, regardless of the type of melon. If you live in a warm climate with a long summer, plant melon seeds directly in your garden. If you live in a cool, damp climate, give them a head start by planting the seeds indoors.
Plant melon seeds indoors about a month before the last freeze of the season. Fill a few 4-inch plastic pots with potting soil and plant 3 or 4 seeds in each pot, about ½ inch deep. Water the seeds with room-temperature water. The soil should be kept evenly moist, but not soaked.
Put the pots in a sunny window where the temperature will be between 75 and 80 at all times. Once the seedlings have emerged, choose the largest, plumpest seedling and discard the rest. Keep the seedlings indoors until the soil is warm and there is no chance of frost. If you live in a warm climate, you can plant the seeds directly outdoors at this time.
Prepare a spot in your garden that gets full sunlight all day. Melons grow huge vines, so leave at least a square yard per plant. Hoe out any weeds and work several shovels full of rotted manure or compost into the top two inches of the soil.
Plant the melon seedlings about a foot apart. If you are planting the seeds directly into the soil, make small mounds about 2 inches in depth and circumference, and plant 2 seeds to each mound. Water the seeds and cover the area with 2 to 3 inches of mulch to keep them warm and moist, and to control weeds.
Keep the plants moist throughout the growing season. In order to be sweet and juicy, melons need plenty of water. However, they don't like wet feet, so never allow the soil to be drenched. Watering them deeply once or twice a week is usually enough. Feed the melon plants with a good all-purpose fertilizer about the first week of July.
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 prior to planting.
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.