Growing Melons (2010 crop)

The melons we typically grow are cantaloupes, watermelons, and honeydew melons of various varieties. This year we are attempting to grow the following melons: Burpee "Congo" Watermelon, Burpee "Hearts of Gold" Cantaloupe, Burpee "Cool Green" Honey dew, and an anonymous "Muskmelon" we bought already started at the local feed store. Melons are generally tough to grow up here in New Hampshire. They really like a hot environment with a long growing period. However, there are ways to grow them in our hardiness zone (5 bordering 6) and get a decent crop every now and again.

The "Congo" and "Hearts of Gold" will be ready to harvest in 90 days, while the "Cool Green" is ready to go in 80 days per the seed packet. I have never gotten anywhere near this speed. My melons are usually ready about 100-120 days or so, probably due to the somewhat suboptimal growing environment. As usual, I started the seed indoors as it is tough to germinate these seeds in the cold ground and I want to maximize my frost-free days. I started these seeds in 2" peat pots and put two seeds in each. I keep them in plastic storage boxes rather than those big, black plastic trays that you typically find with peat pots or pellets. To me, these trays are too filmsy to stand up to several pounds of wet soil when you have to move these around.

About a week later the first "Congo" seedlings began to emerge. Typically, I leave these on a window sill during the day, but if the weather will be nice, I will put them outside for the day but take them in at night. The rule of thumb around here is don't plant before Memorial Day (31MAY) as there is still a chance of the ocassional late night frost.
While the seeds were starting indoors, I cheated and bought eight generic "muskmelon" cantaloupes from the local store. These come in the typical black plastic flat for about 2 bucks and change. After checking the weather report, I decided to chance putting these in before Memorial Day.
The key to good melon production is warm temperatures, as such I usually use black plastic "mulch" (plastic film) around the melons. I use biodegradable "Bio-film" which slowly decomposes and you can till in any remnants in the fall. This stuff actually does biodegrade completely in one year, I have never seen any leftover from the following year as am I starting the garden in early spring. I have read that CLEAR mulch actually warms the soil better than black... due to the greenhouse effect. However, the downside with clear is that weeds will grow underneath... so I settle for black.
Now this film is very lightweight and will easily tear and blow away in even slight breezes. I usually just simply weigh it down with rocks. Landscape fabric staples easily tear through, and weighing it down with a shovel-full of soil isn't ideal either. Weeds will grow on top of the film and go right through it. So, for these reasons, I stick with very reliable "rocks." I make sure to put plenty of rocks on there to make certain the wind can't get underneath it and lift it up.
Planting the melons is as simple as cutting a hole with a trowel and transplanting the seedlings into the hole. I usually make the hole a little bigger than necessary to make certain I can water around them, because remember, although the film will retain water already in the soil, it is impervious to water from above. You need to water through a hole or lift up an edge and jam a hose underneath to moisten the soil. Once the seedlings become established, they are usually okay to survive on rain as we usually get plenty around here.
Regarding the melons I started from seed... Well, as of Memorial day, I have only had luck with the watermelons. Not sure exactly what went wrong here... but I will give them a few more days. If nothing sprouts, I guess I will only have my store bought transplants this year.
By the first week of June we had transplanted our handful of "Congo" watermelons into the garden. A few extra stones help to secure the bio-film as it has been quite windy.
By June 19th, the cantaloupe had progressed a good deal and the watermelons had started to creep up in size.
The "Hearts of Gold" and "Cool Green" melon seeds were pretty disappointing. We only had one of each actually sprout, and one of these was sickly and later died. To be honest, I forgot which ones were which, so I guess I will have to wait and see what kind of melon I get. I have no idea why these didn't sprout. I have read that you may need to actually heat the soil to improve germination rates. However, I have never done this in the past, but still achieved reasonable germination rates.
By July 5th all of the "Hearts of Gold" and "Cool Green" melon seeds had croaked. This left me with just the store bought generic cantaloupe and a few "Congo" watermelons that will still in good shape. By July 5th, the melons had reached this stage (below). I am a little concerned that they are going to have to get moving if we are going to get any watermelons by the first frost.
By late July, most of the plastic mulch around the cantaloupes had bio-degraded and/or blow to pieces. I think in the future, I should do a better job securing it to the soil. I am thinking next year I will use a couple bundles of 4" landscaping staples in lieu of my "rocks." At any rate, by early August (below). The cantaloupes continued to make good progress. I don't think the lack of plastic mulch had done much harm, as this summer has been extraordinarily hot. The cantaloupes love the heat and have been growing like crazy.
By the second week of August, I noticed the first few green cantaloupes appearing. About ten days later they were ready to pick. You can tell when cantaloupes are ripe, as they turn a golden yellow color (instead of deep green) and they seperate from the vine very very easily. If you have to tug, they aren't ready to pick. Many times the melons literally fall off the vine and roll a little bit away!
Green Cantaloupe: Not ready to pick.
Ripe Cantaloupe: Ready to go!
One of the first things you will notice if you have never had a fresh cantaloupe, is how soft and juicy the flesh is. The store bought melons are bred to survive being trucked across the country, so the flesh is rock hard in comparison, and there is little juice. These babies you could literally juice with just a little squeeze! Here is a tip, a few weeks before you are ready to pick your cantaloupe, don't water them. This will help them be more flavorful, rather than absorbing extra water to dilute the flavor.
Shifting back to the Congo watermelons.... by July the watermelons were making good progress. Like the cantaloupe, the plastic mulch had pretty much shredded by this point in time. It didn't seem to bother them too much. It really just meant some extra work to keep the weeds down. Also in July, some of the first few watermelons were just starting to form.
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By August, the melons were really getting to be a good size.
By late August/early September we were harvesting our melons. We ended up getting 5 or 6 good sized melons and a couple tiny ones. This is about the maximum yield that can be expected this far north. The watermelons were a little larger than a football, very sweet and juicy with a medium amount of seeds. All in all it was a fairly good year for melons with the cantaloupes producing more than than the Congo melons.