Planting seedlings outside
Deciding when to plant out is critical. In many areas, the air never does warm up appreciably, so trust the soil temperature instead. If it’s warm to the touch (at least 21˚C), you can go ahead, spacing plants about 60 centimetres apart. If you plant in rows, leave about two metres between the rows. If you prefer beds to rows, make them 150 centimetres wide by at least 150 centimetres long, spacing plants 60 centimetres apart, with paths between beds about 45 centimetres wide. You can also grow melons up a south-facing wall, attaching the stems to a sturdy trellis. I grow vegetables and fruits, melons included, in the flower garden, where creeping stalks ramble every which way. Be sure to keep melon flowers at least three metres away from the flowers of relatives such as squash or cucumbers, because cross-pollination can result in bitter-tasting melons.
Planting is simple. Dig a hole for each peat pot, pop it in and cover it entirely with soil, mounding the soil up around the plant’s base if your soil tends to remain cool and damp, then water well (use tepid water).
If air temperatures are warm at planting time—at least 18°C—and remain so throughout the summer in your climate, you’ll find melons easy to grow. Elsewhere, you’ll need a method of keeping cool air off your plants. If you’re growing in rows, use a floating row cover; it’s permeable to rain, but less so to cold. Make sure it’s loose so it can accommodate plant growth, and anchor firmly at the edges with rocks, bricks or pegs. Another option is to make a “greenhouse” over the row by bending two-metre-long metal rods or pliable bamboo stakes into half circles (or buy hoops from a garden supplier) and cover with a row cover or UV-resistant plastic. For individual plants, cloches or water teepees are effective, but only in climates where temperatures do warm up eventually, as young plants quickly outgrow them.
Insects and diseases
Apart from a bit of mildew and leaf-spotting at the end of the season, which doesn’t seem to harm the fruit, I’ve never had major problems with insects and diseases. But I’m careful to grow only melons recommended as disease-resistant, and I use floating row covers early in the season which help keep insects such as the striped cucumber beetle, at bay. I also rotate all my vegetables, never planting melons anywhere I have grown them—or squashes or cucumbers—in the previous four years.
If insects are visible, spray with insecticidal soap or a homemade soap solution consisting of five millilitres of liquid soap or soap flakes per litre of water. Repeat every three to four days as needed. For insects that come out at night, try applying diatomaceous earth, a white powdery product derived from fossils, over the soil, leaves and stems, making sure to cover both sides of the leaves. Reapply after rain.
Pictured: ‘Summer Flavour 800’ (pollinator watermelon)