Melons R Us

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's melon season in the Sacramento Valley -- did you know that?

You can tell by the roadside stands that are popping up here and there right off freeway exits. I've got one at Elkhorn and Highway 99. Chances are -- wherever you are in the San Joaquin Valley -- you've got your own.

And one of the biggest items on display? None other than red, ripe, tasty watermelons.

Watermelon season has arrived in abundance. Not only at the roadside stands -- but also in our North Natomas Back 40.

To be honest -- I've been growing melons for years. Well -- let's be honest now shall we? I've been "attempting" to grow watermelons for years. Oh sure -- the vines will grow like nobody's business. But the fruit that comes off those vines has been less than -- well -- exciting.

Let's just say that I've cornered the market on growing "personal serving size" melons. In other words -- every attempt at growing watermelons or cantaloupe has resulted in softball sized fruit.

I knew I was doing something wrong -- but what?

Help arrived in the form of some friendly watering advice from none other than Fred Hoffman -- aka -- Farmer Fred Hoffman of KFBK/KSTE gardening fame. Thanks to his timely advice -- I am no longer watering melon plants five or six days out of the week for five minutes at a time. Instead -- the water schedule is down for just TWO DAYS per week -- with each session lasting 20-25 minutes for each watering day (depending on the heat factor for any given week).

To be honest? It's worked wonders. The vines pictured above are the result of that watering pattern and some experimental fertilization. And -- this year -- rather than just plant one variety of watermelon or cataloupe -- I decided -- why not six? And that's what I have in the garden this year. A hodge-podge of melon plants producing all shapes and sizes of melons.

One of those plants -- the Moon and Stars pictured to your right -- is producing some rather monster like results. I'm told a Moon and Stars should be producing a "personal serving size" melon. The picture of the melon to your right? It was taken a week ago. It's still growing. It's twice that size now. It will be anything but a "personal sized melon," unless that person is the Incredible Hulk.

The instructions tell Venus and I that the Moon and Stars melon -- which is an heirloom melon I might add -- has bright yellow spots over a green rind (thus the name Moon and Stars). Furthermore -- I've learned through research that the melons will be ripe for the picking when the actual MOON part of the melon (a much larger bright yellow spot) appears.

As of this time -- no bright yellow moons have appeared on the Moon and Stars melons that are growing in the backyard. I just recently learned that there are several different varieties of the Moon and Stars melon -- and some don't develop moons. Great. So how does one tell when they are ripe?

Good question. Still trying to figure that one out. Get back to you when I do.

As I mentioned previously -- Venus and I planted a number of varieties this year. On the watermelon end of the spectrum -- we chose three different types. One of which I've already mentioned (Moon and Stars) -- and the other two were Tom Watson (an heirloom variety) and Sweet Diane (which I grew in last year's garden). In the area of cantaloupe -- we planted "cantaloupe" (surprise!) and Muskmellon. What's a muskmellon? Well -- it looks and tastes just like...........a cantaloupe.

Fortunately -- you can tell when both varieties are ripe as they turn from a light or dark green to a pleasing orange or yellow. They also tend to "disconnect" themselves from the vine they are on -- or perhaps that's just garden critters at work. Venus and I harvested our very first muskmellons and cantaloupes this past weekend. No -- they are not the size that I wanted -- but there are many more in the garden that are.

The taste so far? In a word? Outstanding. But what vine harvested fruit isn't? Vine-harvested fruit is much like a tree-ripened peach. The sugar content is at its optimum level -- ready for consumption -- and a bite of heaven on earth.

Venus and I will be sampling a LOT of melons over the next couple of weeks in the garden -- including some of the largest watermelons I have ever grown. That's right! I'm proud to announce (brag) that I am actually growing WATERMELON sized watermelons in ye olde backyard. I'm not sure of the exact variety yet -- but I suspect that these are from the Tom Watson plants. They look nothing like the Sweet Diane melons that I grew last year and are growing again in the backyard this year (the rind is much lighter).

The most surprising discovery so far of this year's melon garden? Melons don't need to be started months ahead of schedule like tomato or pepper plants. A lot of our plants came from directly placing seed in the ground when the weather warmed up last May. Sure -- we did have a couple of starter plants that we added to the seed mix -- but you can never tell what plant is what now. They've all grown together!

Our biggest challenge so far this year? Keeping the cats OUT of the melon bed! There's nothing more upsetting than discovering that some cat has dug up half of your newly emerged starter plants -- plants that came from the seed YOU planted a week or two earlier.

But -- we got our revenge. More on that -- in a later post.....


Brown Thumb Mama said...

Wow, looking good! We just harvested our (only) cantaloupe tonight and boy, was it delicious.

Will have to try some Moon & Stars watermelons next year. And thanks for the FF tip--I'd been watering them every day. Oooops!

Fred Hoffman said...

To test melons for ripeness, rap the side of the fruit with your knuckles. A light or metallic sound
means that the fruit is still green; a dull sound means it is ripe. This is most reliable in the early
morning. During the heat of the day or after melons have been picked for some time, they all sound
ripe. Fruits have a "ground spot" where they rest on the ground; this spot turns slightly yellow as the
fruit matures. Watermelons tend to become rough as they mature. The tendrils closest to the fruit
darken and dry up as the fruit ripens. Do not pull melons off the vine; use a sharp knife for cutting. (From:

Anonymous said...

I tried to grow watermelon in a container this year...only got 1 good fruit from a variety called Orchid from territorial seed. I've been watering them everyday too. Orchid is a personal sized yellow flesh was excellent! I was hoping to have yellow, orange and red watermelon for a watermelon salad...oh well. There's always next year!

Congratulations on your melons!

Greg Damitz said...

I've only tried to grow melons a few times before with moderate success. I haven't in years due to space constraints. I might try to talk a friend into letting me do some at his place. Your melons and harvest look great.

dave said...

Yep, nice melons Bill

Anonymous said...

I envy your weather in usa,it must be great to grow such good fruit. Here in Liverpool England we get rain and cold, however i love your blogg, keep it up mate. I grow peas in my tiny back yard and i love it, my friends think im crazy.

john ball said...

great site,keep it up

Bill Bird said...

Thank you everyone. Yes -- in good ol' California -- we're blessed with the best of everything. That includes weather. It's great year round -- and we just happen to live in the absolute GARDEN SPOT of the Golden State. My long-gone mother, who survived the Great Depression, once remarked: "you have the great fortune of not only living in the greatest country in the world -- but the best state in the country." She would routinely tell me this whenever I was feeling sorry for myself (which happened a few times).

Anonymous said...

Hi...we are in Vacaville and we had such high hopes for our melon garden this year...they came on well, set melons...and then...not much of anything. About four watermelons sized up and were ok, they tasted like watermelon and were sorta sweet and the honeydews barely sized up and after awhile I thought maybe I should just pick one because they were about two weeks past the seed pack harvest date...and they were mushy in the center and really had no flavor. So I waited another few days and picked a few...ever smelled Honeydew wine?? EWWW!!
I see that you learned to water only two days a wekk and 30 minutes. Hubby thought a three hour soak with a soaker hose once a week would work....I am guessing not....did you give them fertilizer, organic or chemical?

Bill Bird said...


Yes, there was quite a bit of experimentation with the melon bed in terms of recharging the raised bed AND fertlization procedures. I appears to have worked wonders. I say "appears" because I'm just not ready to pass judgement on the melon garden yet. We picked one over the weekend (a full sized watermelon) and wouldn't you know it? It wasn't quite ripe yet. It needed another week or so on the vine, so that's what we'll give it.

As far as technique is concerned, the melon plants are in a raised bed, about ten inches high. This 8X8 bed is filled with planter mix, and I also recharged that bed this year with about six bags of Steer Manure compost and a bag or two of Chicken Manure compost. I also fertilized with a mixture of Omega 666, another liquid fertilizer called Maxicrop (they are both organic) and also stick a weak mixture of non-organic Miracle Grow into the valves that are connected to the garden-drip sprinklers. The water, upon hitting the valve, dissolves the Miracle grow and it is transported to the many garden beds.