Melons


This will be the last in the series of posts on melons (I think I am hearing a huge sigh of relief from the audience!) As a wrap up, I want to dispel some of the things we were told about growing melons before we started by some people in the business.

Myth #1 – You can’t grow good melons in New Mexico (it is too hot, It is too cold, too short of season etc.)

As you have seen if you read any of the previous posts, you can grow good melons here in the East Mountains without any special extra effort. The big thing (like many fruit types) is finding the correct variety that does well in our unique climate. By “good” we mean better than what you could buy at the grocery store because after all isn’t that why we are growing them? We hope we can save you some disappointment, time and money by listing the types that did well for us and also the types not to waste the time on.

Myth #2 – You must use plastic to grow melons.

We did not use plastic at all on any melons we grew.  That isn’t to say it might not be beneficial it’s just that we wanted to trial them like most people would grow them. I think plastic would shorten the days to maturity by holding in some of the heat lost at night (it worked well on chilies and tomatoes for us). And it certainly would help with weeds growing in the bed.

Myth #3 – Melons can’t be grown on a trellis or you must support their weight if you do.

Absolutely 100% false.  We grew out 7 varieties of melon on trellis and they performed very well.  The fruit is cleaner and doesn’t have the “dead” spot it has when resting on the ground.  It also prevents them from sitting in water if by a dripper or in a depression after a rain. As for supporting them, we didn’t use any type of sling or support for any we grew.  Our largest was 7 lbs and almost volleyball size and we didn’t lose any dropping off even with our high winds.  The vine gets tough enough and develops a sturdy stem when the melon develops not requiring support.

Myth #4 – Open pollinated or heirloom varieties are better.

Some may be, some not.  This statement isn’t a complete truism.  The best 2 types we grew were both hybrids but we also grew some op and heirloom that were good.

Myth #5 – Melons must be transplanted, not direct seeded.

If you sprout and grow you melons indoors in jiffy pots or the like, 2 weeks is about the longest you should go before transplanting them out into the garden.  I think the 2 week gain is offset by the delay of transplant shock and therefore we direct seeded all of our melons and they had plenty of time to develop.

Myth #6 – Follow the days to maturity guide in the catalog.

As a relative guide they seem pretty accurate, but the actual days to maturity was 20-25% longer than published. Note to that some companies list days to maturity from direct seed and others assume you are transplanting.  Even taking this into account and with virtually every type of vegetable we grew this year not just melons, we had to add 20 – 25% to the time listed.  A 65 day bean took 80 days and on down the line.  Our fall crops which we planted in August were much closer to the catalogs.  I believe that in the spring and early summer the heat gains made during the day are lost by the cool nights resulting in a lower average 24 hour temperature than we assume it to be. Or in other words less heat units than say a normally cooler climate that with a low elevation doesn’t change much from day to night temperatures.

Lets hear from you so we can expand the knowledge base of growing varieties in the East Mountains. 

Our list of varieties and our opinions 

If you can only grow 1 type , try one of these (not in any order)

  1. Sivan F1 Hybrid Melon
  2. PMR Delicious  51 Melon
  3. Arava F1 Hybrid Melon

If you have room to grow more, try one of these

  1. Ein Dor
  2. Yellow Canary Melon
  3. Sleeping Beauty

 Don’t waste the space on it

  1. Kiwano
  2. Banana Melon
  3. Pike Melon
  4. Sakatas Sweet
  5. Casaba- Golden Beauty
  6. Corrales
  7. Ojo Caliente
  8. Santo Domingo
  9. San Juan

 The rest of the melons we tried were mostly heirloom and open pollinated varieties that we hoped had withstood the test of time.  Unfortunately many were a disappointment. Most catalogs have extreme claims for their varieties that are written by professional marketing people. Everything is the best, greatest, biggest, most disease free etc. The 2 companies that these were from are  more accurate in their catalog descriptions not outrageous in their claims as say Gurney’s or Henry Fields.  Below I have copied what they said and then what our comments are  

Name – Variety   What they say   What we think
Kiwano – African Horned Cucumber

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  Very unusual fruit with spiny horns.” The green-yellow skin turns a bright deep orange when ready to harvest and the pulp resembles lime-green Jell-O. The fruit has a sour-sweet, banana-lime-tropical fruit taste and is good juiced. This fruit is appearing regularly in US markets. Native to Africa, it is hardy and easy to grow; can be grown just about anywhere you can grow melons. Beautiful vine and fruit! Tiny seed.   Sounds great and unusual, I just had to try it.Unfortunately the vines were slow to start, but got going after July. Strong vigorous vines that never flowered and of course never had fruit
Sleeping Beauty Melon

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  Developed by Merlyn Niedens in the late 1990’s. This variety produces lots of small, sweet melons that have succulent orange flesh. Flattened fruit are netted and have yellow tan colored rinds. Compact vines are ideal for small gardens, and those who grow in raised beds.   This variety did perform as advertised.  They are smaller than a softball but bigger than a regular baseball.  Most of the crop matured at one time and very productive.  Very good (above supermarket) flavor.  If you want a small melon about 3-4 spoonfuls per half, then this is the one
Banana Melon

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  Banana-shaped fruit, smooth yellow skin and sweet, spicy salmon flesh. 16”-24″ long, 5-8 lbs. It was listed in 1885 by J. H. Gregory’s Catalogue, which said “When ripe it reminds one of a large, overgrown banana… It smells like one, having a remarkably powerful and delicious fragrance.” This is one of my all- time favorites, being very sweet and great for specialty markets.   Some of these grew large, most were in the 8” – 10” range quite variable.  They fell off vine (full slip) before they seemed to be ripe. Although they looked ripe on outside and had a good smell they never developed inside and had no flavor
Pike Melon

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  This heirloom was introduced in 1935 by Aaron Pike of Monmouth, Oregon. It is oblong and has sweet salmon, orange flesh and was bred for production on clay soils. This heirloom has become very rare.   We got this type since we have clay soils.  No flavor, inconsistent ripening.  It is probably very rare because it stinks to wait 100 days and get an inedible melon
Afghan Melon

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  This delicious melon is grown in the high mountain valleys, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. It measures about 8 long and is football shape, the skin is netted and the flesh is green, crispy, and sweet. Recently brought back from this ancient country.   Sounds great and since Afghanistan has a similar climate it was worth a try.  Inconsistent flavor some were good, some seemed unripe, no flavor.  The texture is more like a watermelon than a cantaloupe.  Worth experimenting with
Casaba- Golden Beauty

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  110 days. A quality Casaba type. In 1927 Burrell’s said it was the finest of Casabas, very sweet white flesh, tough golden rind, and a good keeper, can be stored well into the winter!   No flavor at all. Vines died off before total maturity but well before first frost.
Sakatas Sweet Melon

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  A favorite Asian variety of Dr. Amy Goldman, author of Melons for the Passionate Grower. These small 3-4″ round melons are very sweet with a high sugar content. Oriental varieties open a whole new dimension to melons as they are amazingly different. Crisp, and crunchy – they have edible skins. Their small size and brilliant golden rind make them very attractive. This fine Japanese variety was developed by Sakata’s Seed Co., of Yokohama. Very Rare.   Ours grew a little larger maybe 4-5”. No flavor at all and definitely not an edible rind.  Maybe another variety was packaged incorrectly, because these stunk and were a waste of growing space
Yellow Canary Melon

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  100 days. An elongated-shaped melon, with a deep yellow rind. Flesh is light green and very sweet and tasty. A favorite! Good yields   Description is accurate although somewhat variable in size,  slow to mature but better than average flavor
PMR Delicious 51 Melon

High Mowing Seeds

  Our first melon every season. Delicious 51 ripens quickly, resulting in heavy yields of top quality melons that stand up to many hybrids in its class. Excellent resistance to Powdery Mildew makes this a sure bet every season. Juicy, sweet flesh is dark orange and aromatic. Fruits average 2-3 lbs, are netted with slight ribbing. Skin is not as thick as modern hybrids but holds well for the market and in the fridge.   This description is very accurate. Initial fast crop and then continued to produce late into season. It did show resistance to PM as the vines next to it (Ein Dor) struggled with Powdery mildew. A great flavor and 5-6” diameter
Ein Dor Melon

High Mowing Seeds

  Known for its intense aromatic perfume and very sweet flavor with a hint of cotton candy and marzipan. Sets 3-4 lb oval melons with firm, green flesh and a small seed cavity. Ananas literally translates to pineapple in Italian and French, which hints at its sugary sweetness. Melons ripen quickly; harvest at full-slip when dark green skin becomes netted and yellow. Late maturity, but well worth the wait!   This melon was slower to produce, was less productive but had a great and unique flavor, very sweet and far superior to anything in the supermarket.  Watch for ripening as it does turn very quickly, if you think you have a week more to go you really have 2 days
Arava F1 Hybrid

High Mowing Seeds

  This green-fleshed tropical melon is deliriously aromatic, sweet and crisp. Arava is a reliable producer year after year in High Mowing’s trials and one of our staff favorites. Galia melons were developed by crossing a honeydew to a cantaloupe, resulting in a perfectly round melon with smooth, netted skin that turns yellow when ripe. Medium-size melons average 2-3 lbs   This melon is everything they claim. Superb flavor, turns yellow when ripe although we had a variety in size average from 4” diameter to 7” diameter when fully ripe. However had one monster measuring 9” and weighing 7 lbs. Very productive, worked well on trellis
Sivan F1 Hybrid

High Mowing Seeds

  Reliable fruit set and excellent resistance to Powdery Mildew. A huge hit in our trials every year. We can not keep Tom from sneaking them home on the weekend or giving them away. Small round melons with smooth, heavily netted skin. Fruits average 1.5-2 lbs. Charentais melons are known for their deep orange, fine-grained flesh and superior sugary flavor. An excellent melon for market, wholesale or the garden. For best quality, harvest at half-slip and ripen for three days at 70°F, then chill.   Another superb melon that is everything it claims to be. Very productive.  Not really small about 5-6” diameter. Also variable in size but not so much as Arava.Taste is far superior to anything found in the supermarket
Since our mission is to find fruit varieties that are adaptable to growing in New Mexico it seemed logical to go to the first agriculturists, The Native Americans.  In the fall of 2007 I read in the Albuquerque Journal about a gentleman from San Felipe Pueblo who sold melons at the Farmer’s Market in Bernalillo.  I made a trip to the market to see him and to buy some melons.  I asked him what variety they were and he said “Don’t Know” . When asked if he knew the type he shrugged his shoulders and said “Melons”. After some discussion I found that his family had grown melons at the pueblo for generations, handed down father to son and this was the “Pueblo” melon.  They were very pricey in my opinion. $5 for a baseball size about $6 for a store size and $10-$12 for large.  He told me how he always sold out and this appeared to be the case as people were buying.  I got a medium one and took it home to sample.  It was ok,- good,  but not as good as what you could get in the grocery store and looked to be a little underripe.  Apparently the Journal article made his business boom and he now sold high and all he could get, so I assumed he picked it a little early.  Unfortunately melons will not ripen off the vine like tomatoes or say, European pears. 

However this got me thinking and doing some research. There are 19 Pueblos in New Mexico and each one has developed its own agriculture and varieties of vegetables which are obviously suited to the elevation, watering technique and specific growing conditions there.  It seems that they had already done our work for us, all we needed was to procure some seed and grow them out.  

Native Seed Search is an organization dedicated to preserving the agriculural heritage seeds of the Southwest.  We chose 4 varieties to grow Corrales, Ojo Caliente,  San Juan and Santa Domingo casaba. See catalog pictures below.

Corrales Melon

Corrales Melon

Ojo Caliente Melon

Ojo Caliente Melon

San Juan Melon

San Juan Melon

Santo Domingo Melon

Santo Domingo Melon

As is often the case, the descriptions don’t match the final result. NSS is better than most at providing accuracy and not glorifying a type.  On 9/25/10 we picked the best example of each type and tested for size, productivity and mainly taste.  I am listing the catalog description along with our description.

 
 

Corrales Melons

Corrales Melons

 

Corrales-A new growout of a 1993 collection from Corrales, NM. Typical oblong native melons with ribs and smooth skin. Dark green fruit turn yellow when ripe. Sweet and juicy.  As you can see there is some variability in appearance at same date and age of fruit, not too bad.  NOT sweet and juicy, at best bland and juicy but pretty consistent in size and vines look and grow well. We will not grow this one again

Ojo Caliente- Originally obtained from a farmer in northern New Mexico. the oval fruits are smooth-skinned and can weigh 5-7 pounds. Pale green flesh with a tinge of orange is sweet and juicy. Harvest ripe fruits when bright yellow and aromatic.   This melon is not very productive and actually was extremely bitter. I have never tasted a melon like it, we had to rinse out our mouths several times it was so bad and it almost ended our melon tasting adventure.  Definite NO GROW.

Santo Domingo Casaba- Originally collected in Santo Domingo Pueblo, this is a casaba-type melon. The skin is slightly wrinkled, the flesh is white to light green. Sweet and tasty.  This melon was pretty productive and hardy with the fruits being much more consistent in size and appearance than the other types and very large seeds.  Unfortunately it has a poor taste.  Will not grow again

San Juan- A prolific honeydew-type with smooth, light green skin and light to deep lime-colored flesh. Vines are somewhat compact and desert hardy.  Prolific no, compact and hardy yes. I notice their description says nothing about taste yet we rate it’s taste as OK, nothing special and no better than store bought ,maybe not as good.  If you have a lot of space and want to experiment then this would be the one.  However there are much better melons out there to enjoy. 

In summary our opinion is not to waste time growing any of the Native melons.  They are inconsistent and seemed to have been probably cross pollinated with squash.  The hypothesis was good but the results were poor.

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.