Harvest tips: Discerning ripeness in honeydews is an art. At least two or three of the following signs should align before you cut fruit from the vine: 1) Fruits are free of fuzz or minute hairs that denote immaturity. 2) Stems dry at tendrils. 3) Fruits assume proper coloration (different for different varieties). 4) Light firm pressure applied to fruit bottom results in a slight give or rubbery rebound (pick soon). Give extends into the curve outside of the blossom scar (pick now). Do not wait for full slip—fruits will develop cracks and get over-ripe. Cure 1–4 days off the vine for best flavor, until it develops a very subtle sweet smell of perfumed honey indicative of melting juicy full-flavored flesh.
- F: Fusarium
- PM: Powdery Mildew
- PRSV: Papaya Ring Spot Virus
- WMV: Watermelon Mosaic Virus
- ZYMV: Zucchini Yellows Mosaic Virus
Days to maturity are from date of transplanting. Melon seed lives more than 10 years with proper storage. 18th- and 19th-century growers preferred to sow 4- to 10-year-old melon seed, believing that such seeds produced plants that spread less and fruits with a finer perfume.
Most Years You Can Vine-Ripen Melons In Maine
Melons are a tender crop with high nitrogen requirements. They love heat, cannot stand frost, and may be damaged by night temperatures below 40°. Though they require some extra fussing, the results are sure worthwhile.
- Note days to maturity and select varieties that will ripen in your climate. Dove, Alvaro, Diplomat, Halona, Blacktail Mountain, Petite Yellow, Peace and Gold Flower are surest bets.
- Start indoors in early May (later if the spring is slow to warm) in plastic or peat pots, 2 or 3 seeds to a pot. Melons resent transplanting but will take if their roots are not disturbed.
- Prepare hills in advance with liberal amounts of well-rotted manure or compost. Don’t place melons next to vigorous crawling plants like cucumbers, gourds or winter squash.
- A cold start can permanently stunt growth, so wait for a warm spell after all danger of frost to transplant, usually between May 20th and June 20th. Water heavily and, if soil is dry, place a temporary hay mulch around plants until a soaking rain comes.
- Melons are much more sensitive than squashes so use low tunnels with floating row covers that do not abrade plants. If you have sandy soil, check daily and irrigate when needed.
- Use blue, black or clear plastic mulch between plants.
- Use a foliar feeding program to speed ripening.
- Remove row covers before buds open. Replace them when you don’t desire any more fruit to set.
- To reduce rot loss, rotate ripening melons occasionally. To reduce mouse damage, place ripening melons on bricks.
- Inspect your patch daily at ripening time. Check fruits for aroma and color and pull gently on those that appear to be ripe. Most muskmelons are ripe when the pressure causes them to slip from the vine. Harvest Galia, Charentais, Honeydews before full slip.
- Enjoy an incomparable taste treat!
Pest: Striped Cucumber Beetle
Cultural controls: use tolerant or resistant varieties, rotate crops, till under crop debris soon after harvest, use floating row covers until flowers appear, use plastic mulch, perimeter trap cropping (Black Zucchini and Blue Hubbard make particularly good trap crops), use yellow sticky strips, hand-pick early morning when beetles are very sluggish.
Materials: Surround, Pyrethrum (PyGanic), Mycotrol.
Disease: Powdery Mildew
Controls: Use small plots to slow spread, plant indeterminate (viney) varieties, control weed competition.
Materials: sulfur and whole milk, mineral or other oils in combination with potassium bicarbonate, Actinovate.
Disease: Bacterial Wilt
Cultural control: Striped Cucumber Beetle is vector—control it; choose resistant varieties.
Fascinated by heritage melons? Amy Goldman’s Melons for the Passionate Grower (ISBN 1-57965-213-1), a mouth-watering journey through her 100 favorite varieties, is an indispensable identification and cultural aid.