Rex’s tips for growing a melon medley two seasons long

Rex Jensen's grandchildren showing off Rex's large cantaloupe and casaba melons, Toquerville, UT, Aug. 7, 2010 | Photo by Rex Jensen, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH – Fresh melons from the garden is a treat to die for. All melons can be grown in Washington County. Melons like heat and can be grown to mature in mid-summer or fall; they just need plenty of water and nutrients. Melons will sprout in cool weather but will not grow or thrive until the soil is about 70 degrees, so don’t rush to plant melons, the growing season here is plenty long.

Melons should be planted during April, May and June, even early July. Melons prefer deep, infrequent watering. But, I have grown outstanding melons by watering them every three days through the summer, so it’s not critical to plant them early, just don’t stress them by shorting them on water. If you have a deep sandy loam soil that you can soak with water, the melon roots will find the deeper water and do well.

All melons can be planted and cultivated in the same manner; 2-3 feet apart in a row, and rows 4-8 feet apart. Melons need room and will send out runners for many feet in all directions; they can grow over the top of other vines without harm, but crowding will hinder size and quality.

Cantaloupes (muskmelons) mature in 80-90 days, Crenshaw melons take 90-100 days, Watermelon takes 90-100 days to mature, and Casaba melons take 100-110 days to mature.

To grow good melons, you must have good soil, plenty of water and heat. You want the melons to grow fast and to avoid stress … and you must choose good varieties.

Every gardener has his preferences, and so do I. There is only one cantaloupe variety I will plant, Ambrosia. Ambrosia is far and away the best tasting, best textured cantaloupe there is. And you will not find this variety in the grocery story because it has a short shelf life. Store melons are grown for shelf life, not flavor. If you grow Ambrosia, you’ll never grow anything else.

Rex, Toquerville, UT, summer 2010 | Photo by Rex Jensen, St. George News

Crenshaw melons are one of my favorites, but many people have never heard of this large, delicious melon. It is two to three times larger than a large cantaloupe, has more flesh, and a glorious taste. Crenshaws turn yellow when they are ripe, and they can ripen quickly, sometimes turning from green to yellow in a single day.

Watermelons are everybody’s favorite; they just hit the spot on a hot summer day. As with all melons, they like heat and should be grown in full sun, in the hottest part of the garden. I’ve not found that watermelon varieties differ much in flavor, except the seedless varieties have less flavor, so try different varieties and grow what you like best. Crimson Sweet, Striped Klondike, Sugar Baby, all do well here.

(The Chinese eat more watermelons per person than anybody in the world.)

The difficult part about growing watermelons is knowing when they are ripe. With Cantaloupes, the vine and melon separate when the melon is ripe. With Crenshaw melons, the melon turns yellow. But watermelons don’t change color and the vine doesn’t break away. However, the vine will crack where it attaches to the melon, and the underside of the melon will turn yellow or white. But keep track of your planting dates, and at 100 days from planting, you should have ripe melons.

Casaba melons are a white meaty melon with a delicate flavor. And I’ve found that even the small, undersized casaba melons are quite tasty. Casaba turns yellow when it is ripe, but they take the longest of all the melons to ripen.

Afterthoughts: Last year I planted Crenshaw melons in pure sand where nothing had ever been planted before. But I tilled in generous amounts of steer manure and kept them watered. Those plantings produced some of the best, and largest Crenshaw melons I have ever grown.

One year I had a pile of compost left over in one corner of the garden, so I just planted cantaloupes on it. At that time I was just watering by overhead sprinkler, and there was no soil, just compost. The melons did great, as did the cucumbers I planted on the other side of the compost pile.

I tell this to show that melons really only need three things, heat, water, and fertilizer, they don’t even need really good soil; the soil was pure sand (probably a little clay), but was not great soil, and the compost pile had no sand, just compost from the fairgrounds in Hurricane.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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