Growing melons | Using melons
The melon, Cucumis melo, is a very variable species, native to Africa, and later introduced to Asia, where it developed into a range of subspecies. The Romans knew about melons but did not regard them very highly and this is thought to indicate that the kinds they had were not of great quality. The melon we know really began its current phase with the introduction of some sweet kinds form Turkey to the papal estate at Cantaluppe in Italy in the fifteenth century. This strain or subspecies was sweet and soon found its way around the warmer parts of Europe and took the name ‘cantaloupe'.
In later centuries, melons were grown under glass in Northern Europe, often using deep beds of decomposing animal manure, or ‘hot beds', to provide additional heat for very early or late crops. Melons became a highly prized fruit and indeed a freshly ripened melon, just picked, is vastly better than shop-bought melon. Being a hot-country plant, melon needs the protection of a greenhouse, low tunnel or cold frame. While they are a bit of a challenge to grow well, they are not very difficult to grow and if only a few fruits are produced, they are delicious!
Greenhouse melons are quite easy to grow and are of excellent flavour. Sow seeds of the varieties ‘Ogen' or ‘Sweetheart' singly in little pots in late March or April. Plant them into rich greenhouse soil, pots or growing-bags when they are about 15 centimetres high, in May. Pinch out the growing-point.
Side-shoots then develop. Retain the two strongest and train them up strings by twisting them around. These can also be left on the ground to spread, if preferred. Further side-shoots will be produced from the two chosen. These are the fruiting shoots.
When the flowers appear and open, take a male flower, peel away its petals and push it gently into the female flower, which can be recognised by the tiny fruit just behind the petals. Pinch out the side-shoot one or two leaves past the young developing fruit.
Allow only one melon to develop per fruiting side-shoot. Feed and water well once the fruit starts to swell. Melons can also be grown on the ground in a frame or low tunnel. Watch out for red spider mite and spray with Liquid Derris on a dull day as soon as it is noticed. Repeat spraying will be necessary.
Melon is mostly eaten fresh, ideally just picked from the vine and still warm from the sunshine. Chilled melon loses much of its flavour. Melon can be used in a wide range of fruit desserts, smoothies and drinks. Melon can be used salads, especially fruity salads with cheese. It can also be used in cooked dishes, generally to make a sweet sauce with meat. Low in fat and cholesterol, it is a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and potassium.