Harvest melons just once from your own garden, and you'll be spoiled forever for anything else. The sweet, juicy perfection is something you just can't get any other way. Like any other crop, melons have their share of challenges, but with a few tips and by making sure you get them off to a good start, chances are you'll have a decent melon harvest this summer.
Where to Grow Organic Melons
Melons, including muskmelons, watermelons, honeydew melons, and cantaloupes, grow best in those regions in USDA Hardiness Zones four and above. They require a long warm season in general. If you grow in zones five and below, you'll want to look for faster-yielding varieties.
Melons require plenty of sun -- at least eight hours of full sun per day. They prefer well-drained soil amended with plenty of composted manure. Plan on giving them lots of space; most melons grow on long vines that will sprawl across several feet in your garden.
If you live in an area with a long warm season (such as zones 7 and above) you can simply direct sow melon seeds after your last spring frost date. However, if you have a shorter warm season, you'll want to start your melons from seeds sowed indoors under lights, around the time of your last spring frost date. After two to three weeks, the outdoor soil should be warm enough to plant your melon seedlings (after you've hardened them off, first.)To warm the soil up faster, consider installing black plastic over the planting area a couple of weeks before you plan to plant. You can simply slit the plastic and plant right through it, or remove it completely once it's done its job.
When direct sowing melons, plant three to four to a hill, with hills spaced four to five feet apart. Plant transplants with the same spacing, planting them at the same level they grew in their pots.
How to Grow Organic Melons
When the plants are still immature, be sure to weed regularly to eliminate competition for water and nutrients. Mulching the area well with two to three inches of organic mulch, such as straw or grass clippings, will help keep weeding to a minimum and help reduce watering.
Fertilize melon plants weekly with a weak solution of compost or manure tea or fish emulsion throughout the growing season. Water regularly, ensuring that the plants receive at least an inch of water per week, and being sure to water if the top inch or so of soil feels dry.
Melon Pests and Problems
The main pest you'll want to be on the lookout for is the cucumber beetle. Look for the beetles on and underneath the foliage, and hand-pick regularly. If they've been a big problem for you before, consider growing your melons under floating row covers. Of course, the disadvantage of this is that then you'll have to hand-pollinate, since the row covers will keep bees and other pollinators away from your plants as well.
Powdery mildew can be a problem. You can spray regularly with a baking soda spray to keep it at bay.
Animals, particularly squirrels, can be a major pain when you're trying to grow fruits such as melons. If they've been a problem, the best solution I've found is to place wire cages, floating row covers, or even bushel baskets, over the maturing fruit to keep the animals away from them. Installing items like whirly-gigs, or even tin pie plates that will make noise in the breeze, can help keep these pests at bay as well.
You'll be well on your way to tasting your own, homegrown organic watermelons or cantaloupes before you know it!