Monday, August 25, 2008

Melon-choly

I’ve been growing melons for just four years, and I have yet to find the perfect melon for my yard, but I’m not giving up any time soon. My perfect melon will have a definite melon flavor, will be sweet, will slip off the vine when ripe so even on my least observant days I can figure out when a melon is ready to be eaten, will be an open pollinated (non-hybrid) variety so I can save the seeds for future years, and will produce a decent amount of fruit. So far, I’ve tried Hale’s Best Jumbo, Sugar Nut Hybrid, Minnesota Midget, and Eden’s Gem. At the arboretum where I am a garden-volunteer, the vegetable garden includes Athena, which seems to be pretty similar to Hale’s Best Jumbo.

What I’ve learned so far:

Hale’s Best Jumbo—This is the first melon I grew. I got a couple of big orange-fleshed melons from each vine but they weren’t especially sweet, and they tended to crack before slipping off the vine (my ripeness indicator). I thought that the big rains we’d had around ripening time might have been responsible for the splitting and watery flavor, so I tried again the next year. Same result. At the arboretum, the Hale's Best Jumbo also have tended to split before slipping off the vine and to have less-than-spectacular flavor, but since we turned off the sprinkler system this year when it looked like the melons were getting close to ripe, the melons all (including the Athena) have had good flavor and sweetness, even though they were cracked open and had parts (around the cracks) that did not look good to eat. It seems like this melon (and Athena) need to be kept unwatered and unrained-on at ripening time for best flavor. Since I can’t control the tropical storms that come up across the Florida panhandle to dump rain on metro-Atlanta in the middle of the melon harvest, this seems like a less than ideal choice of melon for my yard.

Minnesota Midget and Eden’s Gem—These both are tiny melons, just a pound or two (max!) each. But since they are supposed to be great for small gardens, and my garden in small, it seemed like they were worth a try. Eden’s Gem is green-fleshed and Minnesota Midget is orange-fleshed. They are both tasty and sweet, they slip off the vine when fully ripe, and none of the fruits have split or cracked. Since the melons are so small, even though each vine produced two to four melons, the total weight of fruit harvested was not as much as I would prefer. However, one of my friends is growing these in containers on her sunny driveway this year, and she has really enjoyed these little fruits.

Sugar Nut Hybrid— This is the third year that I’ve included this melon in my melon patch, and I originally bought the seeds to grow as a back-up melon the second year I planted Hale’s Best Jumbo. The Sugar Nut is green inside like a honeydew and bright yellow outside when it is ripe, and it slips from the vine to let the gardener know it’s time to harvest. If water is withheld at ripening time, this melon is almost too sweet, but my family does not consider that characteristic to be a flaw. A sudden late downpour of rain does not make the sweetness go away, and none of these, in three years, has split or cracked. Each vine usually produces two to three medium sized melons, but the presence of the mini-melons in the garden this year had an interesting, and undesirable, effect on the Sugar Nut Hybrids that were planted at the same time: they stayed little. It hadn’t occurred to me that allowing the fruits to cross-pollinate would affect this year’s fruit, even though I know it would affect any plant babies produced from seeds of this year’s fruit. Luckily, I had planted two of these a few weeks earlier than the others, and those two plants produced normal-sized melons.

The take-home message:

I’m still-hunting for my perfect melon. I will probably plant Sugar Nut Hybrid again next year, alongside a new-to-me open-pollinated variety that won’t be a midget.

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