Insanely fragrant and mind-blowingly sweet, there is no contest between homegrown melons and their store-bought counterparts. Melons grown in your own backyard can be plucked straight from the garden at peak ripeness, allowing you to devour their fresh, succulent sweetness. Vine-fresh melons are the ideal summer treat.
How to Plant ‘Em
It’s best to plant melons as soon as soil warms, making June the perfect month to get started. This summer started off oddly chilly in the Bay Area, but now the sun is finally starting to come out. A quick rule of thumb: the warmer it is, the sweeter the melon. Planting your own allows you to choose from the wide selection of varieties. Supermarkets often have the worn-out trio of the same cantaloupes, honeydews, and watermelons. Try planting new varieties like Chelsea watermelons, Amish heirloom cantaloupes, and Eden’s Gem honeydews, which can be bought at The Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit of a group of farmers who share heirloom seeds.
To plant, make low hills of 2-4 inch thick compost with a 2-3 foot diameter, 2-3 feet apart, and sow 2-3 seeds or transplants (plant starts) per hill. Melons like company, so reasonable density will not be a problem. When watering, you want to avoid wetting the foliage – a drip watering system is ideal. When the melon is mature, cut back on watering to avoid a bland, fleshy taste. Less water equals more sweetness.
Cool Bay Area nights and coastal summers aren’t ideal for most melon varieties, but choosing early melons like Lil Loupe or Fastbreak, from Territorial Seed can help with a better harvest. In coastal climate gardens, you can help protect your plants by shrouding it in black plastic and floating row coverings until the weather warms up or the plants begin flowering. Read more below for tips on harvesting!
When to Pick ‘Em
Melons make for the perfect meal at the end of a warm summer day. Fully ripe watermelons have three indicators for when it’s pickin’ time: 1) The curly stem turned brown; 2) The color has changed (usually yellow or a duller shade); 3) The bottom of the melon has turned yellow. Check for color changes in the leaves near the vine. Cantaloupes are a little easier, as fully ripe ones simply break from the vine.
Reward yourself for your gardening and growing effort with a Shaved Melon and Prosciutto Pizza. This simple meal has amazing flavors, with sweet shaved melon contrasting deliciously with the saltiness of the prosciutto and cheeses, and the spicy nuttiness of the arugula refreshingly finishing the flavors. You can choose to bake it in the oven, or crisp it on the grill until the cheese is fully melted.
Once you’ve had fresh melons planted, grown, and plucked from your garden with your own hands and tasted the difference, you’ll be ready for melon madness all summer long!