Growing Melons is a practice accessible to everyone, and even a few plants can bring great satisfaction. This fruit is also known by various vulgar names, such as popone, melon of bread, white melon, yellow melon, etc. This is because there are different varieties to cultivate, each with its unique flavor.
Let’s get to know this plant better, the best types to cultivate, the necessary cultivation measures to grow healthy and flourishing plants, and finally, let’s discover together the strategies for biological defense against possible pests and fungal diseases.
Melon, Classification, and Origin
Melon, scientifically known as Cucumis melo, is a plant belonging to the botanical family Cucurbitaceae. In this same family, as we have seen previously, other important cultivars like zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons etc, also belong.
The plant is native to North Africa but is currently widespread worldwide. Its fruits, which we all know, are generally sweet and very aromatic, with an unmistakable scent. In general, they are consumed from summer until autumn, but as we will see shortly, there are varieties that can be stored for a longer time and can be consumed even in winter.
The Melon Plant
The cultivation of melons is an annual cycle. The plant is an herbaceous vine that develops long branched stems with tendrils, much like those of cucumbers. Normally, its long trailing vines are left to crawl on the ground, but with the help of tendrils and appropriate cultivation supports, the plant can be trained to grow upwards.
The root system is well developed, both in the superficial layers of the soil and in deeper areas. The leaves are rounded, very rough to the touch, and light green in color.
The plant is usually of the monoecious type, meaning male flowers develop first, followed by female flowers. However, andromonoecious types with male and hermaphroditic flowers are also frequent.
If we decide to grow melons, the fruit we will harvest will be a typical medium-sized pepo, weighing between 1 and 4 kg, depending on the variety. It consists of an epicarp, or rind, fused with a fleshy mesocarp that constitutes the edible part.
Inside the fruit, there is a cavity filled with a soft and spongy mass, where the seeds are found.
The melon seeds are numerous, white, elongated, and pointed at one of the two ends.
Growing melons allows for a wide range of variety choices. Different types are distinguished by the characteristics of the fruit and can be grouped as follows:
- Netted melons, with round or slightly elongated fruits. The skin is thin and marked with a dense suberous reticulum. The flesh can be green-yellow or orange, very sweet and aromatic. Among the most interesting varieties in this group are ortolani melon, golden delight, zuccherino, and arancino.
- Cantaloupe melons or netted melons, with round or slightly depressed fruits. The skin is deeply grooved longitudinally and has a rough texture. The flesh is orange or salmon-colored, very aromatic. Notable varieties in this group include charantais, from Parigi, from Caravaggio, and of the Carmelitani.
- Smooth melons or winter melons, with an oval shape, smooth and thick skin, and yellow or green color. In these varieties, the flesh can be white, light green, or yellow, and it is very sweet but less aromatic. Varieties in this group include giallo brindisino, verde di Napoli, giallo di Napoli. These melons are called winter melons because they can be stored for a long time, even until winter. They are mainly cultivated in the southern regions of our country, where the warm and dry climate favors the sweetness of the fruits.
How to Grow Melons
Climate and Period
Growing melons requires a very warm and dry climate. The plant prefers a sunny position with low humidity. For this reason, sowing takes place in late spring, from May to June, when temperatures are stably above 15 °C even at night.
Soil and Fertilization
Growing melons requires well-worked, deep, and loose soil with proper fertilization. It should also have excellent drainage as the plant does not tolerate waterlogging, which can lead to fungal diseases.
For fertilization, using well-matured manure spread on the soil before the final processing is ideal. If you have difficulty obtaining it, you can use pelleted manure, a product readily available in the market. If you prefer this solution, a valid product can be found here.
Sowing and Spacing
For growing melons, you can use the technique of direct sowing in small pits. Typically, in small pits spaced about 80/100 cm apart, 3-4 seeds are planted. These should be covered with 2 cm of soil, which should be well-moistened at this stage to facilitate germination. After about 10 days, the seeds will begin to sprout, and then they should be thinned, leaving one plant per pit.
The distance to be maintained between the rows should be at least 2 meters.
Growing melons does not require significant irrigation efforts; the plant is more sensitive to excessive humidity than to drought. However, during long dry periods, it may be necessary to irrigate to avoid compromising vegetative development.
To further limit irrigation and prevent the growth of weeds, mulching is essential. We recommend using straw, but there are different types available, such as jute mats. In any case, the mulching material should be placed around the plants before they grow too much.
To obtain regular and well-developed fruits from melon cultivation, it is customary to perform careful and systematic topping of the shoots. The first topping is done when the young plants have 4-5 leaves by cutting the apex above the second leaf. This operation is repeated on first and second-order vines, which should be topped above the third leaf. Fruits usually form on third-order vines, which, in turn, should be topped two leaves above the fruit.
Biological Pest Defense
Growing melons requires an adequate strategy for biological defense against pests and diseases.
Among the animal pests, the most problematic is the cucurbit aphid, Aphis gossypii, which we have previously discussed, and we refer you to a specific post for the biological defense interventions to adopt.
Regarding fungal diseases, the most dangerous for this crop are powdery mildew and pseudoperonospora cubensis, a disease very similar to tomato downy mildew.
Regarding powdery mildew, this pathogen causes powdery white spots on the leaves, followed by leaf yellowing and necrosis. To counter it, it is necessary to intervene preventively with sulfur powder (which you can find here) or with sodium bicarbonate, as described in the past.
Regarding downy mildew, it appears on the leaves with initially translucent oil-like spots. These spots then evolve into yellow-brown areas, with gray-violet mold forming on the lower leaf surface. Vegetation affected by the disease completely withers in a few days. To prevent the onset of this problem, agronomic solutions such as adequately long rotations or avoiding overhead irrigation to keep the foliage dry can be adopted. Preventive treatments with sulfur powder, in this case, are also strongly recommended.
Harvest and Storage
Melons ripen from the end of July and throughout September. There are summer varieties, like the netted and cantaloupe melons, which should be consumed immediately. And there are other so-called winter varieties that, even when harvested during the same period, can be stored for a longer time, up to five months.
Generally, these varieties are hung upside down in a dark and dry place, or above a layer of straw that allows the fruit to remain fresh for a long time.
- MDPI (Agronomy): “Effects of Broccoli Rotation on Soil Microbial Community Structure and Physicochemical Properties in Continuous Melon Cropping” – The research investigates the challenges of continuous melon cropping and how a melon-broccoli rotation might alleviate these issues, particularly focusing on the effects on the rhizosphere’s soil microbial community.
- MDPI (Int. J. Mol. Sci.): “Genome-Wide Identification and Characterization Analysis of WUSCHEL-Related Homeobox Family in Melon (Cucumis melo L.)” – This study zeroes in on the WUSCHEL-related homeobox (WOX) proteins in melon, emphasizing their significant role in plant development and stress responses.
- MDPI (Agriculture): “Characterization of Melon, (Cucumis melo L.) Silage with Different Biomass Mixtures and Dry Matter Contents” – The research aims to determine the optimal dry matter contents and proportions of melon plant biomass for silage production, using a randomized design to test different combinations.
- MDPI (Foods): “Spatial Distribution and Migration Characteristic of Forchlorfenuron in Oriental Melon Fruit by Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Mass Spectrometry Imaging” – This article examines the spatial distribution and migration characteristics of forchlorfenuron in oriental melons, aiming to understand its metabolism and potential toxic effects.
- MDPI (Genes): “Optimised Agrobacterium-Mediated Transformation and Application of Developmental Regulators Improve Regeneration Efficiency in Melons” – The focus of this research is on enhancing the efficiency of Agrobacterium-mediated genetic transformation in melons, presenting an optimized protocol.
- MDPI (Foods): “Natural Antioxidant Potential of Melon Peels for Fortified Foods” – The article explores the potential of melon peels as a natural antioxidant source for fortified foods, highlighting their bioactive properties.
- MDPI (Agronomy): “Melon (Cucumis melo L.) Fruit Yield under Irrigation and Mycorrhiza Conditions” – This research investigates the impact of irrigation and mycorrhiza on melon fruit yield, providing insights into optimizing cultivation.