Because melons are considered a “fruit” by most people we wanted to grow and report on our experiences with them.  Where to start?  There is a huge selection of varieties with every seed catalog listing at least 6 types and some having 20 or more.  The descriptions obviously written by professional marketing staff tell you that they either taste the best, grow the biggest or are the most disease resistant and of course will make you rich and get you the girl!  Canary, Cantaloupe, Charentais, Crenshaw, Casaba, Galia, Honeydew, Muskmelon, Persian melon, Sharlyn and the list of types goes on and on. Within these varieties or types there are many named cultivars or strains.  Flesh colors range from orange to green to yellow, some are cream or white and some mottled or striped and the rinds can be smooth, ribbed, netted or any combination.  Some catalogs break them down by American, European, Asian and other.  I don’t know if anyone could ever become an expert on melons with the vast array of types and varieties.  We aren’t adding watermelons to the list since they are a different species and our findings will be in a later post.  All that are known as melons in the trade are the same plant, Cucumis melo and will readily cross and bring about new varieties in 1 season.  That’s probably why there are so many available.  Add to that that each seed company may be selling the same strain under it’s own tradename and it can get quite confusing.

We chose the ones to trial by maturity date (shorter season), some by catalog description and some to give us a wide range of sizes and types.  I like to think of it as educated guessing, but we got our education on actually growing them.

A lot of people said that melons can’t be grown here, it just isn’t hot enough ( it is difficult to think of New Mexico as not hot enough) and besides many good ones come from Colorado and of course other parts of the nation.  Or it was too hot, or it was too cold at night etc., etc., etc.  Our experiences show that good melons can be grown in NM.

We decided that we would not use plastic and would use drip irrigation with only manure added to the soil.  Our goal was to grow them like most people would without a lot of babying and without special additives.  If they are to be a profitable crop they can’t take too much time or extra inputs.

In early spring we took native soil, rototilled it once to break up and loosen the clay and then later in the spring we added a 3″ layer of aged horse manure and bedding. This was rototilled once more to mix and was then ready to plant. This will increase the soil ph but we felt the benefit from the tilth it gave was worth the drawback of increasing an already very high ph (8.2) further.  The jury is still out on this and compost definately would be better as it has a buffering effect on the soil.

The drip irrigation we chose was a product called “T-Tape” sold by Dripworks.  This is a continous tubing that has micro holes spaced about every 8″.  No need to add drip emitters and very easy to lay down in a straight line. It gives full coverage of a row to about 12″ wide.  We picked the Low Flow which delivers about 20 gph per 100 foot length.  Our irrigation system is on timers and our initial setting was 30 minutes 2 times a day until 1 week after germination , then we went to 30 minutes once a day. Later we went to 1 hour every other day as the plants got bigger and roots got deeper.

We grew both on trellis and in the field and all were direct seeded, no transplants. Again we wanted to simulate what was easy for the average person.  Melons do not transplant well and can only be started for about 2 weeks prior to planting out.  Whenever we have transplanted it seems the transplant shock sets back the plant enough that the direct seeded catches up with it anyway, so why go to the extra trouble if it is not needed.  In the field we planted 2 seeds together at 24″ spacing and 24″ apart in the rows alternating.  When the plants got to between 8 and 12″ we cut off and thinned out the weakest or smallest of each set leaving us with 1 plant every 24″ and 24″ apart.  The benefit to this was that not all seeds will germinate, but by planting 2 in a spot you will at least get 1 ,and if you get 2 you keep the best one.

We also planted 7 types to be grown on trellis.  These were planted at a rate of every 8″ and thinned to approx 12″ apart at the same size.  Melons will grow on a trellis but need immediate attention and at least weekly tying to get them trained up it.  They have a tendency to grow sideways on a trellis and not vertical.  The benefits to trellis growing in theory are it uses a lot less space, good circulation and air flow to prevent diseases and ease of viewing and picking (no bending).  Our experience is that while it is more work, the plants looked better and lasted the season, they were healthier maybe because of the sun getting to all sides and were more productive. Your first melons will be on the ground though because that is where the first flowers are located on the vine. 

 Many people will tell you that if you grow on a trellis that you must support the fruit with a sling of some type or it will break from the vine because of the weight. 

Melons on trellis without support

Use cheesecloth, nylon hose or even old bras to support them and the weight.  Thank goodness it is only an old wife’s (growers) tale.  Lets see 20 varieties, 20 or so plants of each variety, 2 melons per vine,  yes I can see myself going door to door asking for old bras to support my melons  and then when I do saying . “Oh, sorry to bother you, we only wanted to grow big melons”.  Seriously though, as you can see in the picture these are 5-6 lb melons growing without support and freely swinging in the breeze.  The vines grow thick and tough enough you do not need to tie the melon up.