MELON: A DELICIOUS SUMMER FRUIT
Details of Outdoor, Frame and Greenhouse Cultivation
The Melon or Muskmelon is botanically known as Cucumis Melo. It is native of southern Asia and is included in the Gourd family, Cucurbitaeeae.
Cultivated Melons have long, slender, pliant stems that bear heart-shaped, rather rounded leaves which frequently have three to five lobes. The stems arc creeping, and in garden culture the plants have no useful need for the tendrils they bear. Usually distinct male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are produced on the same plant, but sometimes flowers bearing both male and female elements develop. When Melons are grown in a greenhouse or cold frame, hand pollination of the flowers is necessary to ensure a set of fruit. The fruit in some varieties have orange or salmon-pink flesh, while in others, as in the Honeydew, the flesh is green.
Classifications or Types. Melons, excluding Watermelons (which are a quite different fruit; see Watermelon), are classified into two main groups. One contains the netted-skinned Nutmeg Melon or Muskmelon (popularly known in North America as the Cantaloupe, although this name more properly belongs to a group of European hard-rinded, warty-skinned varieties that are scarcely known in America), the other the smooth-skinned or Honeydew Melon and the Cassaba Melon; both of the latter require a long growing season in which to mature, and are not generally suitable for outdoor culture in the North.
Growing Melons Outdoors
The Musk melons are best for gardens in temperate regions. In the coldest sections of the United States and Canada it may be necessary to grow them in a cold frame.
Commercially this crop is raised in many states but its cultivation is restricted mostly to regions with a long growing season where the fruits will mature from seeds sown directly in the field, without the necessity for sowing the young plants indoors and transplanting them.
Culture. The usual custom in warm-temperate regions is to sow the seeds when the surface soil is warm and when the weather is quite settled, about 2-3 weeks after the first sowing of Corn is made, and about the time it is safe to plant Geraniums outdoors. The seeds should be planted in hills or stations 5-6 ft. apart. Set 3-4 seeds in each hill and, after the young plants are up and danger of loss from the cucumber beetle has passed, pull out all except the strongest and most promising one.
In the northern States and in Canada a better start is assured when the seeds are sown indoors in pots or in pieces of inverted grass sods 4-5 weeks before it is safe to set the young plants in the garden. When sown on pieces of sod, seeds should be placed 6 in. apart to enable the grower to cut out each plant without damaging the roots. Melons need careful handling when transplanting is being done; if their roots are much injured or their stems damaged, they are likely to die.
Soil. Good Melons may be grown in almost any fairly moist soil that contains an abundance of organic matter and is well drained. Although quick growth is important, the soil should not be excessively rich in available nitrogen, since this tends to cause rank growth of vine and leaf and to result in fewer and inferior fruits. The plants must have ample direct sunlight and generous water supplies throughout the entire growing season.
Weeds must be controlled and regular shallow cultivation is important so long as there are any bare spaces of ground between the developing vines.
Melons are superior in flavor when allowed to ripen on the vine. Smooth-skinned types may be cut earlier than netted types and will yet develop their distinctive flavor. Varieties of the latter begin to change color as they ripen, but the ripeness in netted kinds is not so easy to detect in this way. When cracks appear at the point where the fruit is attached to the vine, maturity or approaching maturity is indicated.
Growing Melons in a Greenhouse
The best method of cultivating Melons in a greenhouse, which should be heated sufficiently to maintain a minimum temperature of 60 degrees, is to make up a hotbed of manure on the door of the greenhouse, or on a bench. If, however, there are hot-water pipes beneath the benches, the hotbed of manure can be dispensed with.
Making a Hotbed. The best material with which to make a hotbed is fresh stable manure which has been turned several times to allow the rank “steam” to escape. It is then made up on the floor of the greenhouse, or on a bench, until it reaches to within about 18 in. of the trellis beneath the roof, after it has been trodden down firmly. For several days following the making of the hotbed the top ventilators of the greenhouse should be left slightly open to allow the rank gases or “steam” to escape.
As soon as the hotbed is made up, small mounds of loamy soil are placed on it, in each of which one Melon plant will be set; the mounds, about 10 in. high and 18 in. wide, should be set near the front of the greenhouse, and 21/2 ft. apart.
Planting the Seedlings. A wire trellis, on which the shoots of the Melon plants will be trained, is fixed beneath the roof at a distance of about 12 in. from it. When the seedlings are nicely rooted in the small pots in which the seeds were sown, they are planted out, one in each mound of soil. Care should be taken to moisten them thoroughly before they are transplanted. The measure of success obtained in the cultivation of Melons depends very largely on the quality of the soil in which they are planted; it is useless to attempt to grow the plants in poor soil.
The Best Soil for Melons. Professional gardeners who grow these fruits to perfection plant them in turf loam, and no other kind of soil is so suitable. This loam is turf which has been stacked for a year or more: by then the grass will have decayed completely and the heap will consist of soil and fibrous material—the dead roots of the grass. Such soil, if of a fairly heavy character, will grow Melons to perfection, and amateurs who wish to obtain really good fruits should purchase a few bushels of this material if they have no stack on which to draw.
It is unnecessary to mix other materials with the loam unless it is rather clayey; a little leaf mold and sand may then be added.
Melons flourish in a warm though not too moist atmosphere. The minimum temperature during the spring and summer months is 60 degrees. It must not fluctuate: a steady uniform temperature is essential to success. Naturally, the higher the minimum temperature the earlier will the fruits ripen. Daytime temperatures of 70 degrees and higher are beneficial.
For the first week or two after the small plants are set in the mounds of soil, they will need no watering, provided the roots are moistened thoroughly before planting is done. I’he soil and the plants must, however, be syringed to encourage free growth.
Details of Management. When the thermometer registers 10 degrees above the minimum night temperature the top ventilators should be opened slightly; if the day is warm and sunny, ventilation must be increased as the day advances. Early in the afternoon, before the sun has ceased to shine on the roof of the greenhouse, the ventilators must be closed. This will have the effect of increasing the temperature considerably and if the wall and door are syringed, a warm, moist atmosphere which encourages the growth of the plants will be assured. This method of management lessens the need lor much artificial warmth.
Pruning and Training the Shoots. The young Melon plants are allowed to grow unchecked until they reach the wire trellis placed beneath the roof. The point or tip of each plant is then pinched off or cut off. This treatment has the effect of causing the development of several side shoots, which, as they grow, must be tied to the trellis. It is on these fresh shoots that the flowers will be produced.
Any shoots which develop after the crop of fruits is set should be stopped as soon as they have made one leaf, or cut out altogether; otherwise, the trellis may become crowded with a mass of small leaves which will prevent air and light from reaching the plants, and so interfere with the ripening of the fruits.
Pollinating the Flowers. Now comes one of the most important details in the management of the Melon—the pollination of the flowers to ensure a satisfactory crop of fruits. The Melon bears two kinds of flowers, male and female. The latter are easily distinguished by the swollen part at the base of the bloom; the female flower, when fertilized, will develop and provide the fruit.
Pollination is effected by pulling off a male flower, removing the petals, and placing it on the fruiting bloom so that the pollen falls on the stigma of the latter. Pollination should be carried out preferably near the middle of the day, and, if possible, in warm, bright weather.
Several Blooms Must be Pollinated on the
Same Day. It is most important that all the female or fruiting blooms be pollinated at the same time on the same day. If one bloom is pollinated one day and two 01 three blooms are pollinated the next day, the former will provide a large fruit, but the fruits from the later pollination will be small—they will not reach their full development. A disappointing crop will result if this detail is neglected.
It is often necessary to remove the earliest fruiting or female llowers if only one or two are open together; by waiting a few days it is certain that the grower will find five or six female blooms which are open at the same time. If all are pollinated the same day, the fruits will develop evenly and all will be of about the same size.
It is not usually possible to obtain more than five or six fruits of good average size from one Melon plant; if any develop after the five or six chief fruits are set and making progress, they should be cut off, for they will be valueless and will interfere with the development of the other and better ones.
Top-Dressing with Soil. When the roots of the Melon plants are seen to have penetrated to the outside of the small mounds of soil, further soil of the same kind should be added. Several further additions will be needed during the season of growth. The best material to use is the fiber from old turf; the roots penetrate this quickly anil freely, ensuring vigorous stem and leaf growth. It is a better practice to add further soil from time to time in the way advised than to make up a complete bed of soil in the first place, for in sour or sodden soil Melon plants quickly perish.
When the Melons are in bloom, it is necessary that the greenhouse be kept dry and airy so that the pollen will be dry and easily transferred from the anthers to the female or fruiting bloom.
When it is seen that the fruits are set and are increasing in size, a warm and moist atmosphere in the greenhouse will assist their development.
When the fruits begin to change color, drier and more airy conditions are again necessary to enable the fruits to become thoroughly ripe.
Watering is a detail of considerable importance in the successful management of Melons.
The soil must not, of course, be allowed to get dry while the plants are in full growth, but it is essential the soil be not overwatered. When the soil is moderately dry, it should be given sufficient water to moisten the mound thoroughly; water ought not to be given until the soil is again moderately dry. More Melon plants are spoilt through overwatering than by any other means.
Supporting the Fruits. As the fruits of the Melon increase in size, it becomes necessary to support them; if support is not provided, the fruits are so heavy that they pull down the shoots and break them. The simplest form of support is provided by several strands of raffia tied to the trellis and passing beneath the fruit. Pieces of wood, on which the fruits may rest, attached to the trellis by string, are sometimes used, but they are not recommended; moisture collects on the board on which the base of the fruit rests, and the latter often starts to decay where it touches the board.
The best method of supporting Melons is by using small nets which are placed around the fruits and suspended from the trellis; these keep the fruits safe and do not interfere with their development.
As soon as a Melon is almost ripe, it should be cut and placed in a cool room; in the course of a few days it will be in perfect condition for eating. If the fruits are cut, one by one, as they become ready, those remaining on the plant will ripen more quickly.
After the fruits begin to change color, the soil must be watered less frequently, and when the fruits are almost ripe the soil should be allowed to become dry. The greenhouse must also be ventilated more freely and the atmosphere must be kept perfectly dry by discontinuing syringing and “damping down.”
The Melon is essentially a fruit for warm weather, and it is scarcely wortfi while attempting to produce fruits which ripen earlier than June in amateurs’ greenhouses. By sowing seeds in a warm greenhouse, having a minimum temperature of 60 degrees, in early February, and following the procedure already described, it is possible to ensure ripe fruits in early summer.
Melon Growing in a Frame
As Melons can only be successfully grown in a cold frame during the summer months it is not wise to make a start before the middle of March. A hotbed of fresh stable manure, which has been turned several times, should be made up in the frame in the way already described. Mounds of soil are placed on the manure as soon as the hotbed is made. For three or four days after this is done the frame must be ventilated slightly throughout each of the days.
The seeds may then he sown separately in small pots of loamy soil, the pots being plunged to the rim in the hotbed. When well rooted, the seedlings are planted out, one in each mound of turfy loam. Otic plant is enough to plant in a frame 6 ft. by 4 ft. It should be set in a mound of soil placed in the middle of the frame.
Training the Shoots. When the plant is about 6 in. high the top must be pinched off to cause the development of side shoots, and if, when the latter are 10 in. or so long, they also are “stopped” by pinching off the ends, sufficient branches will form to fill the available space. It is important to ensure the growth of a number of vigorous shoots with large leaves before the plants bloom, for small shoots which develop subsequently are valueless and should, in fact, be stopped at the first leaf, or cut off.
When a sufficient number of fruits has set, the shoots which bear them ought to be stopped just above the first or second leaf; this practice helps the progress of the fruits and prevents superfluous growth. In growing Melons in a frame it is important that the bed be not overcrowded with small shoots which hold moisture and keep out sunshine and air.
As the plants make progress, further loamy soil must be added to the mounds so that the roots shall be well nourished.
Until the Melon plants begin to flower, the frame must be kept warm and moist by closing it early in the afternoon before the sun has ceased to shine on it.
This is a most important detail of cultivation when Melons are grown in a cold frame, and should not be neglected.
When the plants are in bloom, free ventilation should be given in warm weather. After the fruits are set and are noticed to be increasing in size, warm and moist conditions are suitable, but as soon as the fruits begin to change color, the soil should be watered less frequently and syringing should not be practiced.
Every day during warm weather the frame should be ventilated, for Melons do not flourish in a.i atmosphere that is continually close and moist. They like warmth and moisture, too, but the air in the frame must be what the gardener calls “sweet,” and that can be achieved only by ventilating whenever conditions out of doors are suitable.