Mini melons can give max taste
Melons do not mind their manners — at least as far as their growth habits are concerned. A single rambling vine of a standard melon variety can cover up to 100 square feet of garden space and many gardeners don't have that kind of room to spare. But even gardeners with limited space can enjoy tasty, homegrown melons by growing miniature varieties.
Melons can be classified as “miniature” either for the small fruits they produce on full-sized vines or because the vines themselves are small and bush-like instead of rambling. It is the latter type of miniature melons that are the best for space-starved gardeners. Each plant takes up only a few square feet but, in most cases, the fruit production is on par with traditional melon varieties — four or more fruits per vine. Here are a few bush-type mini-melons that might like to find a home in your garden this summer (seeds are available from many online and catalog seed companies):
• “Golden Jenny” is a yellow-fleshed, short-statured variant of the classic, green-fleshed heirloom variety “Jenny Lind.” Both selections are unique for the knob, or turban, at the blossom end of each fruit. “Golden Jenny's” golden flesh is super-sweet and its netted green skin turns yellow when the fruits are ripe. This early, productive variety matures in about 75 days.
• “Minnesota Midget” is a personal favorite for its fast maturation — it reaches maturity in a mere 70 days — and its sugary sweet flesh. The very small, very compact plants reach only 3 to 4 feet across yet still produce numerous fruits, up to six per plant! The orange-fleshed fruits are small, measuring only 4 inches across, making this variety an exceptional choice for container growing, too. The skin is netted and green but pales when the fruits are ripe.
• “Sleeping Beauty” was introduced in the late 1990s and is best known for its compact vine and delicious yellow-orange fleshed fruits. Ripe fruits reach only a half pound in weight and the netted skin has deep ribbing and turns a pale yellow when ripe. Plants reach maturity in 85 days.
• “Green Machine” matures in 85 days and bears fruit that is absolutely incredible —- not only in flavor and appearance, but also in number. The compact vines produce mass quantities of 2 pound melons, each with lovely green flesh that tastes divine. The skin is netted and fruits fall from the vine when ripe.
• “Honey Bun” is a bush variety that is not only compact in stature, but also bears the cutest lil' fruits. Measuring just 5 inches across, each honey-flavored fruit has deep orange flesh and a classic, netted cantaloupe skin. Each vine produces three or four fruits in about 75 days that fall from the vine when ripe.
Because melons prefer warm temperatures, seed germination is best when soil temperatures range from 75 to 85 degrees F. Don't even begin to consider planting them until the soil has warmed and the air temperature has stabilized. Seeds can be sown directly into the garden a week or two after the danger of frost has passed or you can get a jump start on the season by starting the seeds indoors under lights about three to four weeks before its time to move them outdoors.
Positioning black plastic mulch over the planting area a few weeks before sowing the seeds helps create the warm soil conditions that melons love and leaving the mulch in place throughout the season reduces watering and cuts down on weed competition. It also keeps the fruits off the soil where slugs and other insects are more likely to damage them. If you aren't a fan of plastic mulches, use a 2-inch-thick layer of straw instead and apply it right after planting.
Irrigation is a must during dry summer months while the fruits are forming. Failing to achieve consistently moist soils can lead to smaller fruits or fruit that cracks open after a heavy rain. Cut back on watering, though, a week or two before harvest to concentrate the sugars and make your miniature melons even sweeter.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
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