Down in the Garden: Marvellous Melons

Growing your own melons is an exercise in patience but you will end up with the sweetest, most lovely fruit imaginable.

The average watermelon or honeydew will take between 80 and 100 warm days, (not just any days, but warm days) to mature and rockmelons around 80 days.

My take on this is to go with faster-maturing varieties or better yet, heirloom seeds. As melons do take a bit of space and time, why not try growing something a little unusual like the Australian Heirloom ‘Indian Cream Cobra’ Rockmelon with its lovely mild flavour or the ‘Candy Red’ Watermelon that grows in an elongated form. If you just can’t wait there are a few fast-maturing varieties, and these include the ‘Minnesota Midget’ and ‘Sweet Granite’ Rockmelons along with ‘Moon and Stars’ and the ‘Sugar Baby’ Watermelons which only take about 10 weeks until harvest time. Try these great Aussie suppliers for heirloom varieties: succeedheirloom.com.au or diggers.com.au. Growing and care advice is rather similar across types and the most important things to note are that they need a rich soil, lots of water, warmth, sun, and space! Let’s dig in.

Growing Melons

Your melons will need at least 1.5m of space around each plant and the position needs to be warm to hot and experience full sun all day. Soil needs to be very well draining, preferable a light sandy loam and they prefer a slightly acidic soil of around pH 6. Dig over the soil a few weeks before planting and improve with well-rotted manures (cow or poultry are preferable), compost, and worm castings. The last frost must have well and truly passed as they are not frost tolerant. When planting, create a mound of about 10-15cm high and 90cm wide to plant into as this will help with drainage because although melons love lots of water, they are still prone to fungal disease so this will assist water to drain away.

You need lots of leaves on your vines so that your melons are large, healthy, and most importantly sweet. It is often stated that melons are ‘heavy feeders’ because they have large fruit but also because the mass of the living organism, (leaves, stems, roots and fruit) of the plant is large. To feed, use a balanced organic complete fertiliser every three weeks.

Constant and deep watering is also needed and to limit the chances of fungal disease, water early in the day and don’t water the leaves. A few weeks before harvesting, cut back on the watering because too much water at this time will dilute the internal sugars of the melon and can lead to fruit that is not as sweet as it could be. Water just enough to prevent the leaves from dying but you can expect a few dying leaves at this time, just not all of them.

Your melons are ready to pick when you notice the stem connecting them to the plant is starting to pull away and soften. The melon can sometimes also slightly crack around the stem and the area will have a musky aroma. To harvest, cut the stem leaving a short amount still on the melon.  Mature the melons by leaving them in a protected place where they can still sit in the sun for a few weeks. They are ready to eat when you hear a hollow sound when you tap on them.

Melons on a Trellis or in Pots

If you are limited with space in your garden but still want to grow melons then you can train the vines to grow up and around a trellis. The melons will need to either still rest on the ground and this can be done by ensuring that vines are trained back down to the earth when fruit setting is noticed. You could also support the fruit in expandable mesh bags, slings or if you are very handy, by building little platforms. I have also seen this done for melons and pumpkins that are grown on the ground to avoid any marking on the underside.

When I say you can grow a melon in a pot, what I mean is you can grow one melon plant in a very large pot (over 60cm in width) and you will need to provide a trellis and slings or some way of holding the fruits as described above. Ensure that your pot is in full sun all day and that it drains well and is also filled with top quality vegetable-suitable potting mixture that is mixed with a slow-release fertiliser and something to improve water-retention and drainage such as perlite or vermiculite.

Try This – Square Watermelons

There is debate about the origin of the square watermelon but many agree that in 1978 Tomoyuki Ono, a graphic designer, worked out a way of perfecting what others feel is something Japanese farmers were already toying with. Popular in Japan’s markets, the more lovely of the melons can fetch up to $300AUD but they are not really meant for eating. They are regarded as a decorative item in Japan even though urban legend will have us believe they are grown that way to fit into tiny Japanese fridges in their overcrowded cities. You can grow a square watermelon too! You need to affix a transparent tempered glass or plastic box around the watermelon while it is still small. There are now many types of plastic watermelon moulds on the market including heart-shaped ones to try out. The watermelon will grow to fit the box/mould and will also stop possums from having a nibble.

GARDENING BOOK REVIEW

Native: Art and Design with Australian Native Plants

Kate Herd and Jela Ivankovic-Waters ISBN: 9781760760809 Thames & Hudson Australia Pty Ltd

I’m in the mood to share with you inspiring gardening books that you might even consider as presents this festive season and this one would be top of my list. Winner of the Indie Book Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction 2018 and shortlisted for ABIA Illustrated Book of the Year 2018 this book shows you that a Native Garden need not be messy or look like every other ‘Aussie Bush Backyard’. There are gardens of all types, sizes and situations throughout this divinely illustrative book and you can’t help but say to yourself, “Is that really a native?” while turning the pages to each gorgeous new vista. There is plentiful use of native trees, shrubs, flowers, and foliage that will inspire you to try using these in different settings and ways including clever pruning techniques that I had not thought of myself. Included are interviews with celebrated landscape designers, artists, and gardeners – including Fiona Brockhoff, Janet Laurence and Tracey Deep – that bring to light so many ways to celebrate the sculptural natives that shape our everyday spaces.

TASKS & TIPS FOR YOU THIS WEEK 

Just a few things you could plant this week include herbs, Asian greens, asparagus, globe and Jerusalem artichoke, beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbages, capsicum, carrot, celeriac, celery, cucumber, eggplant, endive, fennel, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, marrow, mustard greens, okra, parsnip, potato, pumpkin, radish, rhubarb, rocket, salsify, silverbeet, spring onion, sweetcorn, sweet potato, taro, tomato, turnip, warrigal greens, zucchini, sunflower, aster, bedding begonia, calendula, California poppy, carnation, celosia, chrysanthemum, coleus, cosmos, dahlia, dianthus, everlasting daisy, gaillardia, gazania, gerbera, honesty, inpatients, kangaroo paw, marigold, nasturtium, phlox, portulaca, salvia, snapdragon, waratah, zinnia.

YOU & YOUR GARDEN: Phil’s Possum Problem, Blue Bay

Dear Cheralyn,

Saw your article in local paper. I am having problems with possums eating new growth on my mop top tree. Happens each year. Tried spiked plastic, animal repellent powder etc. any ideas which may help??

Dear Phil,

That’s annoying and your ideas are good ones, but possums are craftly little devils and can find ways around a lot of things. They are protected so care must be taken with anything you do and only deterring them is permissible under the law. A few other things you can try are hanging moth balls in your tree or using menthol-scented rubs and creams around the garden as they hate them. You can attach cling film to your tree trunk with the rub on it or you can smear it on structures around the garden boarder. Motion sensor lights and garden ornamental owls with eyes that flash can work too. Good luck Phil.

Next Week: The Top Ten Unkillable Plants

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 10am every Saturday on CoastFM963. She is also co-host of @MostlyAboutPlants a weekly gardening podcast with Vicki White.

Send your gardening questions, events, and news to: gardeningcentralcoast@gmail.com

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