What to plant
Most gardeners in Canada should plant cultivars recommended for short-season climates; those needing fewer than 75 days to maturity are best. (The number of days to maturity listed in catalogues or on seed packets indicates results under ideal conditions; I find that adding about 20 days is more realistic.) Only in Southern Ontario and in hot-summer areas of British Columbia are main-season varieties a wise choice. Both hybrid and heirloom varieties are readily available: hybrids are especially early, but heirloom types have a long history of proven results.
True melons are botanically known as Cucumis pepo, a category that includes a range of sweet-flavoured fruits, usually round to oblong and with or without ribs or netting. Their flesh can be any colour from green to orange. Here are the main categories:
A hard-shelled melon rarely grown in this country. What Canadians call “cantaloupes” are really muskmelons.
A small grey-green melon, often with darker green ribs. Its flesh is usually deep orange, sweet and highly aromatic.
A large melon with a greenish rind heavily overlaid in netting, and sweet, green, aromatic flesh. Galia seeds sold in North America are usually a cross between Galias and muskmelons—true Galias are a long-season crop, best in hot climates. Varieties such as ‘Passport’ are adapted to short-season areas.
A smooth-skinned, yellow to white melon with sweet, unscented, white to orange flesh. Short-season varieties are available.
Like a large honeydew, with a yellowish rind and pale green to somewhat orange flesh.
This common melon is also the earliest and easiest to grow in areas where summers are short. Its netted skin is usually ribbed, and the salmon-coloured flesh has a sweet taste. Some varieties have the typically musky scent that gave the fruit their name, but most have little odour.
Other true melons
Other true melons include such tropical types as casaba melons and Persian melons (both C. melo), and horned melons (C. metuliferus), none of which is particularly interesting for short-season climates.
Watermelons belong to a different genus entirely, Citrullus (C. lanatus). They have smooth rinds in a variety of colours; from light green to nearly black to striped, and come in many shapes from round to distinctly oblong. The sweet, crunchy flesh is usually red and punctuated by numerous flat, black seeds, but yellow and orange strains exist, as well as seedless ones. As the name suggests, the flesh is more than 93 per cent water.
Finally, the so-called bitter melon (Momordica charantia) looks more like a cucumber than a melon, and is best treated as one. Likewise, the Chinese watermelon or Chinese preserving melon (Benincasa hispida) is actually closer to a squash than a melon.
Pictured: 'Earli Dew'