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May 20, 2009 08:33 AM

Help Me Put a Melon Debate To Bed?

This household has suddenly become weirdly obsessed with Moon and Stars watermelons. Due to newly gained sunny spaces, we're putting in raised beds. Hub sees this as perfect for the M&S's. I am skeptical, as watermelons are largish plants, and my beds will be smallish...which I see as perfect for chards and beets and the like. Now, I did see on another thread that squash can be trellised per the Square Foot Gardening doctrine, but I couldn't find any hard how-to on the SFG site (probably user error!). I thought perhaps this could be an option with melons?

- How much space (sq ft) does one need for melons (and: one plant? two? I don't even know what kind of pollination needs or yields to imagine).
- Can this be done on a trellis system of home $500 designer gardening accessories for us! Are there special considerations for the planting box size?
- I realize melons are a thirsty crop, and we've been having very dry summers. Realistically, is the hypervigilance vis-a-vis watering enough going to be just too onerous for a few melons? (Albeit ridiculously beautiful melons!) And really, what is *watering enough* for melons?

So confused. Nothing new!

Thanks for any help!


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  1. "How much space (sq ft) does one need for melons (and: one plant? two? I don't even know what kind of pollination needs or yields to imagine)."

    It's not really the surface area, so much as the soil depth, that you need to worry about with melons in raised beds. (More on surface area in a minute.) Provided that your beds are either a) 12" deep at minimum, or b) 8" inches deep, but on top of soil that isn't packed so hard that the roots can't penetrate, you'll be fine.

    You don't need more than one plant for fertility's sake. Each plant produces male and female flowers. Female flowers appear at the end of a tiny little watermelon on the vine. Male flowers have no fruit attached, but are larger. (This is also true of other cucurbits -- cucumbers, squashes, gourds, and other melons.) Fertilization occurs when both male and female flowers are blooming at the same time and pollen is carried from the male blossoms to the female blossoms by wind, bugs, or you and a Q-tip.

    "Can this be done on a trellis system of home $500 designer gardening accessories for us! Are there special considerations for the planting box size?"

    The beauty is, you don't even NEED a trellis. The vines will get very long. But, they don't root, so you can let them grow wherever and however is convenient for you (and/or the plant). If you just let them spill over the sides and then spread away from your beds, they'll be fine. They'll creep across the yard and be perfectly happy. They'll even creep down your driveway and be equally happy. Or, you can train them to stay within the bed, staying around the perimeter. (This is what I did one year after my watermelon vines got so long that they were interfering with my ability to mow the lawn.) You *can* trellis them, but I wouldn't. Here's why: One way to tell when a melon is ripe is that it detaches easily from its stem. Detachability + melon suspended from great height = possibility of ripe melon falling to the ground and splitting. If you do go the trellising route, once the fruit gets to be of considerable weight, support it with an old pair of pantyhose tied to your trellis.

    If you leave the vines in your yard, once the fruit starts to form and ripen. put something underneath the melon in order to keep it off the ground -- a 2" thick piece of wood, for example. This will keep slugs and other bugs from eating through the rind.

    "And really, what is *watering enough* for melons?"

    They'll need to stay evenly moist, though well-drained, as the plants get established and until fruit starts to set. (That is, until those tiny melons attached to female flowers get pollinated and the melons start growing.) Keep this up until the melons are full-sized and are beginning to ripen. Then STOP WATERING. Seriously, don't water while the melons are ripening. This forces the plants to concentrate the sugars in the fruit, instead of sending it out into the vines as nutrition. If it's especially hot and dry and the plant is getting really wilty, water it on that afternoon. But discontinue regular waterings when the fruit starts to ripen.

    One more thing regarding pollination: Female blossoms usually appear before male blossoms. If they're not pollinated, they and their mini-melons simply fall off the vine. Don't be alarmed -- you haven't done anything wrong. It just means that the plant isn't ready yet.

    If you find that your fruit isn't setting even after you have plenty of male and female flowers simultaneously, you can hand-pollinate the plants this way: Early in the morning (when the flowers are open widest), find a large male flower with lots of visible pollen on its stamen. You'll be able to see it. Pick that flower, bend the petals back, and rub the pollen on the pistil on the inside of a wide-open female bloom. Bingo -- you've just performed watermelon copulation, and your fruit should soon set.

    And if you want big melons instead of many melons, remove female flowers after you have a couple of fruit already set on the vines. The plant will put all of its energy into growing the fruit that have set, and won't waste energy making the smaller fruit grow.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mudster

      mudster, I salute you as one of my heroes! Thanks so much!


      1. re: mudster

        Hey mudster, this is all very interesting and exciting. Question: must all of this long vine remain in full sun to work, or can it trail off into a more shady area? Our full-sun is very limited. (But we have the moon, and the stars...)

        1. re: heidipie

          The end of the vines can venture off into shade. In fact, that's not a bad thing, because fruit left in full sun can get 'sunburned.' That doesn't really hurt the fruit, but it can do cosmetic damage. If they get into an area that's too shady, though, make sure it's not prime slug/snail habitat. They'll eat right through the rind and into the fruit in no time.

          The main part of the plant -- i.e., where it's rooted -- needs to be in full sun so that it can photosynthesize and all that, but the vines can go where they want.

      2. We've been square foot gardening for years. I introduced my husband (an engineer) to the SQF book (written by an engineer) and there was no going back. Anything that can be grown vertically in our garden goes up. Currently our vertical crops include pole beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, cantalopes, sugar baby watermelons. A little later I'll start training the zuchs and acorn squash up. I specifically look for seeds and starts that are indeterminate or vining as opposed to bush or determinate. Our trellises are made from 1" conduit. I support the melons with slings around each melon made from old stockings. We never get mold or soft spots or other wet damage on the melons since we've started doing this. I've never grown Moon & Stars so I don't know how large they get but the Sugar Babies do fine growing vertically. I don't think I'd be able to grow a standard size watermelon upwards without a much heavier trellis system. Growing upwards frees up all the ground that would normally be covered by sprawling vines and allows us to plant other crops there. The other advantage is it's less tiring and easier on my back to be able to maintain the garden standing upright. If you have limited space, going vertical with as much as possible will allow you to grow more ground crops.

        Oh and we have successfully cut down on the space needed between plants by going upwards as well. For example, cantalope are recommended to be 3' apart. Ours are 1' apart, growing well and covered in abundant blossoms and little green golf ball sized melons at the moment. So we have 4 vines in a 4' x 1' space.

        We water with the hose by hand lightly in the morning and evening on a daily basis when we're in a dry spell. If we're getting regular rains (about an inch or so a week) we water intermittently if the garden needs it (stick a finger down a few inches, does it feel dry?). When the melons are ripening up we don't water them at all (only rain) unless it's extremely dry because too much water makes for a weak, watery tasting melon.

        The conduit makes great inexpensive trellises because they can be configured with available joints into shapes you need to accommodate your space. We mostly use straight and L-shaped trellises but we've also made tipi shapes fastened with bungees at the top and covered with netting fastened with wire ties and garden staples to protect our baby fruit trees. We drive single sticks of conduit into the ground at the four corners of our berry rows, drape them with netting and fasten the same way to protect them. If you fasten the wire ties loosely you can slide the netting up easily to maintain and harvest. This works great for us, costs way less than fencing. Our neighbors laughed when it went up but now they're doing it too! We get the netting and the conduit, wire ties, and staples at the local home improvement store.

        1. I am a little late. I have not tried to trellis watermelon, but I have grown cantaloupe on trellis for years. The secret to a fully ripe, "full slip", melon is: panty hose. I use my wife's old nylons and panty hose to to support the developing fruit. They expand to conform to the shape of the fruit and allow it to grow to maturity. When the fruit slips and falls an inch or two into the support, you have the ripest, best melons you have ever tasted.

          And yes, your neighbors may think that your garden is a little strange. You might also try the poly mesh sacks that some fruit is sold in, but only use plastic wrap or anything that impedes airflow or will hold in heat.

          1. piling on to say that m&s can go on a trellis, you just need to make little "hammocks" for the growing fruits. but if you have some old compost (not hot compost) you can make a pile in a sunny spot out of the way (nearby ditch, etc lol) and plant the melons in that, they can spread out. i've seen them grown over a chain-link fence too, with little bungie cord supports around some of the melons. i wish i had a picture of that to show you, it was cool.