1. Soil Preparation:
Melons require excellent drainage to thrive, so the best method is to grow them in raised beds that are 5 or 6 feet wide. The top of the bed should slope downward from a mound to induce water to drain away. If the water manages to collect in pools, it may lead to rotted fruits and other problems. The soil should be very rich in organic matter and phosphates.
2. Sowing & Planting:
Direct seeding into your soil is the best method, unless you live in a cooler climate with a short growing season. If this is the case, start the seeds indoors around 1 month prior to the last frost and transplant them outside 3 weeks after the last frost. If you are planting directly into the soil, sow 3 seeds into the hill about 1/2 inch deep. Each hill should be spaced 4 or 5 feet apart to encourage proper growth. Hot caps placed over the seeds with encourage rapid growth. When the seedlings are well established, cull out the weak seedlings. If the seedlings were started indoors, transplant them 1 foot apart in the beds. Cover the seedlings with cloches to protect them from frost and parasites. If you would like to create a successive harvest, sow more seeds every 3 weeks following the first sow, but leave ample time for these younger crops to mature.
3. Looking After the Crop:
Melons need heat to provide a good yield. In cold climates, cover the soil with black plastic to raise the soil temperature. In warmer climates, use straw or dried grass clippings over the top of newspaper. To increase your yield, use drip irrigation or a soaker hose beneath the mulch. A good source of phosphate fed regularly in small amounts will encourage good production. After the melons begin to produce, take care not to over-water the plants. Over-watering during the 3 weeks prior to harvest can produce melons with a watery, tasteless flesh.
4. Harvesting the Crop:
When your melons obtain a mature colour, wiggle the stem where it connects to the fruit; if the stem comes off easily and leaves a concave end on the melon, the fruit is at ‘slip’ stage and is ready to eat. However, although most melons (Musk, Honeydew, Casaba, etc.) slip their stem when ripe. The Persian melon varieties do not slip their stems. When a Persian melon matures, they develop a strong, sweet perfume, especially at the base end of the fruit. If you detect a strong scent, the melon is ready to harvest. To harvest Persian melons, simply clip the stem with a sharp pair of clippers, leaving a 2 inch stub still attached to the melon.
Take care not to wash your melon until you are ready to eat it as washing it can encourage mildew and rot. Cantaloupe varieties in particular are very sensitive to ethelyne gases and will spoil very quickly. If you have picked your melons at a slightly under-ripe stage, they will ripen rapidly at room temperature in 2 – 4 days. Once your melons are completely ripe, they will store for 10 – 14 days in a refrigerator.