Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Sweet satisfaction: Growing melons

Larry Hodgson
Photography by
Roger Yip

If you can trick melons into thinking they’re in the tropics, they’ll grow happily for you in Canada

If you’ve ever tasted a freshly picked, ripe melon, you know just how sweet and deliciously scented it can be. Commercially produced melons are usually harvested about a week before full maturity, which is when they produce the most sugar—and a good reason for growing your own melons.

Growing your own also gives you the widest possible choice. I love to experiment with new types, unusual forms, odd colours and different flavours. I think the main reason most Canadians grow melons, however, is the challenge—something you try when you find growing other things too routine. Just about anyone can grow lettuce or tomatoes, but there’s a certain satisfaction and cachet in being able to say you grow your own    honeydews or watermelons. Although melons are better suited to hot climates—Georgia and Arizona—than to Canadian gardens, it is possible to grow them practically anywhere in this country. Even in my Zone 4 garden situated on a cool, north-facing slope, melons do fairly well, although some years are better than others. Generally I get a really good crop every two years.

Climatic factors
Native to tropical Asia and Africa, melons are naturally long-season plants that thrive in heat. Growing them in most Canadian gardens requires not only effort but also a bit of deceit—you have to trick the plants into believing they’re growing in the tropics. If you succeed, they’ll reward you with plenty of sweet fruits. If they even suspect they’re growing in Prince Edward Island or Alberta, you’ve lost them.

Hardiness zones aren’t the major factor in determining your success: it isn’t how cold the winters are that matters, but how long and warm the summers. The prime growing area for melons is central Canada, notably Southern Ontario, where summers are usually long and hot, and in the central valleys of British Columbia, where summers are long, hot and dry. Even Prairie growers, in areas where summers are relatively long, won’t have too difficult a time. In coastal areas of British Columbia, the Atlantic provinces and parts of Quebec, however, the summers are theoretically long enough, but temperatures rarely reach the 24 to 35˚C that melons like. And in northern areas, there’s the double whammy of short summers and cool nights.

Don’t let that discourage you.

With a little work, you can extend your summers and even make them warmer, giving your melons the conditions they require.

Pictured: ‘Appollo’ melon


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