The melons offer an annual challenge here because timing is of the essence. All melons like a hot summer so the further north you are, the more successful you will be. They also have a relatively long growing season of at least 3 months and you need heat at the end of the season to get sweet fruit. The trick is getting them out at the optimum time – early enough to get well established but not so early that they get checked in growth by inclement spring weather.
Melons grow on a vine, similar to a pumpkin or a courgette, each plant taking up at least a square metre. If you want to grow them vertically up a trellis, you will probably have to construct little hammocks for each fruit to support the weight. Because of the long growing season requirements, it is usual to put them out as small plants rather than starting from seed. You can try and hasten the initial settling in process by using a cloche or by planting into black plastic (which helps the ground to heat up more quickly). Mark has tried a new approach this year of building fresh compost beds in mounds for the melons, using grass clippings to generate initial heat. Ever the vigilant gardener, he has measured the temperatures and the mounds are sitting at around 35 degrees during the day, dropping to 18 degrees at night. He is hoping this is enough to really kick start the crop this year. It also has the advantage of supplying plenty of nutritious, organic material which the plants require.
Plants need to be well established and running profusely by Christmas if you are to have any hope of a decent harvest and even then, you are relying on a warm, dry autumn. So do not delay planting if you want to try growing them.
Water melons are a little more successful in marginal climates, though many of us may think they are a poor second to a good rockmelon.
First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.