Growing Sweet Melons

Why don’t melons get married?
Because they cant-elope.

August is a sweet time for melon lovers. Muskmelons pack up on sugar in their final days of growth. Anything that interferes in the process may result in less tasty fruit. But you can help by removing any immature fruit that has appeared since midsummer. Those fruits are unlikely to develop fully before cooler weather sets in and will only sap nutrients that could be going into more developed fruits. Also, take care not to walk on melon vines or destroy leaves, as the leaves are the source of the sugars that sweeten the fruit. The more leaves the better. A number of fruits ripening at one time will also diminish sweetness. Some growers prune off all but one newly forming melon every two weeks to provide maximum sugar concentration.

To flourish, melons prefer several months of temperatures in the 80s or higher with nighttime temperatures no lower than 55 F and plenty of sun. Some gardeners choose to trellis their cantaloupe, tying up the vines as they grow to get them off the ground and provide optimum sunlight to the leaves. A trellis may have to be 8 feet high by 20 feet wide and solidly constructed. The growing fruits should be cradled in netting.

Melons require 1 inch of water per week during the growing season. Stop watering them, however, about a week before you think they will be ripe. Excess water in the final stages can dilute sugar and reduce sweetness.

You can tell a muskmelon’s ripeness by its skin color, which turns from gray-green to yellow-buff. Generally, a muskmelon is ripe when it separates easily from the vine. Ripening stops when a melon is picked, so take care not to pick one prematurely. Honeydew ripeness is a bit more tricky to judge. The melon turns cream colored, and the blossom end should give just a bit when pressed. Watermelons are ripe if they sound hollow when thumped.

The type of soil may also play a role in melon sweetness. Melons require rich soil. When planting, scrape back soil in a 2-foot square area and fill with 4 to 6 inches of manure or rich compost, then rake the soil back up into a hill. When melon runners are 1 foot long, feed the plants with a mix of one part blood meal to two parts bone meal, 1/3 cup per hill.

After picking your melons, keep them refrigerated until ready to eat. They will keep for up to two weeks. Don’t wash them until they are ready for use to prevent mildew or spoiling.