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Honeydew melons may have a long growing season, but they are an interesting crop to grow. Although you may not see gigantic yields when the harvest finally does come in, the rewards of tasting your sweet, homegrown melons will be well worth your efforts. To grow honeydew melons successfully, you'll need to give them plenty of sunlight, lots of moisture, and heat. Here's what you need to know to get started.
In America, honeydew is the common name for a particular cultivar of melon called "White Antibes", which has long been popular in parts of Europe and North Africa. Although summer-grown, the honeydew melon (Cucumis melo var.) is classified as a "winter" melon. It has a longer growing season (up to 120 days) than other melon varieties like muskmelon, cantaloupe, and watermelon. Honeydew fruits have a round to slightly oval shape and are between 6 and 8 ½ inches long. They typically weigh from 4 to 6 pounds. The flesh is usually pale green in color, with a smooth outer rind that changes from pale green to creamy yellow as it ripens. The sweet, juicy flesh of the honeydew is full of antioxidants and is a good source of vitamin C. When growing honeydews, plan on two plants for each person in your household. Site and Soil Requirements
To ripen properly, honeydews need full sun and warm soil throughout the growing season. Plants grow best in light, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Get your plants off to a good start by preparing the planting bed well ahead of time. This will give the fruits the best possible chance of reaching maturity within the growing season. If you have heavy, clay soil be prepared to amend it with a lot of organic matter to improve the texture and drainage. Melons are heavy feeders and require a lot of nutrients to get the fruits to mature in time for cold weather. To ensure fast, steady growth, dig several inches of compost and well-rotted manure into the soil before planting.
Melon seedlings will not grow when temperatures drop below 50 to 55 F; in fact the vines may not set fruit at all if they've been chilled during infancy. When sowing seeds or setting out transplants, you will need to wait longer than until "the danger of frost has passed". The weather should be warm and the soil temperature at least 70 F. In areas with shorter growing seasons, gardeners should choose fast-maturing varieties, start plants inside, or use black plastic sheeting to speed up soil warming in the spring. After planting, cover the area with a floating row cover to provide additional warmth and protection, and remove them during flowering to allow for pollination.
Direct Sowing: Sow seeds ½ inch deep in hills or rows. Hills should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart with 6 seeds to a hill. Two weeks after the seedlings emerge, thin each hill down to 2 to 3 strong plants using a scissors. If sowing in rows, space plants 12 inches apart in rows 5 feet apart.
Starting Seeds Indoors: If you're starting honeydew seeds indoors, wait to start them until 3 to 4 weeks before it's time to plant them in the garden. Don't start them too early. The plants should only have one or two true leaves at transplanting time, too many more and the roots will be difficult to establish. Sow the seeds in large peat pots, ½ inch deep, with three seeds to a pot. Place the pots in a location where the soil temperature will remain between 75 F and 90 F. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate, then maintain them at a temperature of 70 F or warmer. When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin them down to one strong plant per pot using a scissors. After hardening off transplants outdoors, space plants the same distance apart as for sowing seeds-2 to 3 plants per hill or 12 inches apart in rows. The roots of the seedlings are very delicate, so try to leave the soil intact and undisturbed when transplanting.
Containers: Honeydews need lots of garden space to sprawl, but bush, dwarf, or mini-varieties can be grown in containers. Choose containers that are at least 18 inches deep and plant 2 to 3 seedlings against a trellis. As the vines grow, train them up the trellis using soft plant ties. Suspend slings made from netting or pantyhose from the trellis to cradle the fruits as they grow.
Watering: Melon plants are not drought tolerant and require a steady supply of water throughout the growing season. The soil should be kept evenly moist-but never soggy-as overwatering can negatively affect the flavor of the fruit. Avoid watering overhead, which can encourage the spread of fungal diseases. Unless the soil becomes very dry, back off on watering during the final 2 weeks of the ripening stage to give the fruits a sweeter flavor.
Feeding: If your soil is rich in nutrients, you may not need to feed the plants while they're growing. If your soil is poor to average, or you just want to speed up production, give the plants a ½ strength balanced liquid organic fertilizer every three weeks once the plants become established.
Weeding: Do not cultivate the soil around plants to avoid injuring roots near the surface. It's best to remove weeds before the plants start to vine, and then apply a generous layer of mulch to help keep them under control. You should also try to avoid walking on the vines, which are prone to being crushed.
Protecting Fruits: During extended periods of hot weather, fruits exposed to the sun may suffer from sun scald. To help prevent this, drape the vines over the fruits to shade them with the large leaves. As an alternative, cover the fruits with small cardboard boxes. You can protect ripening fruits from animals by covering them with plastic milk crates.
Mulching: Adding mulch around young melon plants is a good idea for several reasons. Mulch conserves moisture, keeps soil temperatures warm, suppresses weeds, and it keeps fruits clean and less prone to disease. In cooler climates, black-plastic sheeting makes good mulch. Lay down several sheets of it a few weeks before planting time to warm up the soil, and then make slits in it when it's time to sow your seeds or set in your transplants. If soil warmth is not an issue where you live, use any good organic mulch like straw, grass clippings, or chopped leaves.
Directing growth: If you want to grow larger sized melons, or speed up production, remove all but 2 to 4 melons from each vine closest to the roots. After mid-summer, remove any developing blossoms and small fruits that you don't think will ripen within 50 days of your first frost; this will encourage the vine to direct all of its energy into the fruits that are left. Don't pinch off the tips of the vines. The plant will need all of its leaves to produce the sugars that sweeten the melons.
Insects that attack honeydew melons also attack other members of the cucurbit family (cucumber, squash, and melons). The most common are the cucumber beetle and the squash vine borer. Aphids can also quickly take over a vine, so inspect the undersides of leaves frequently. Honeydews are also susceptible to fungal diseases such as Fusariam wilt and powdery mildew. When shopping for seeds or seedlings, look for disease resistant varieties.
To reduce the probability of insects and disease, use good cultivation practices. Rotate crops and avoid watering from overhead. Keep developing fruits clean and off the ground using mulch, or by propping them up on inverted coffee cans. Keep the garden free of unnecessary plant debris, encourage air circulation around plants, and use floating row covers to exclude insects while trapping warm air.
Melons will not ripen much off the vine, so it is important to know just when to pick them. For most varieties, that is somewhere between 75 to 100 days after being planted from seed. As soon as one melon starts to ripen, the rest will ripen in short order one right after the other. The nice part about this is that you will quickly learn how to spot a perfectly ripe melon.
By Ellen Brown
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