Winter melons are summer-grown, warm-weather, tender plants that are commonly ready for harvest in late summer, autumn, or early winter. So-called winter melons include casaba, charental, Crenshaw, honeydew, and Persian. Winter melons require 110 frost-free days to reach harvest, more days than required by the summer melons, cantaloupe or muskmelon and the watermelon. Sow winter melons in the garden or set out transplants not earlier than 2 weeks after the average last frost date in spring when all danger of frost has passed. Start winter melon seed indoors 6 weeks before you plan to set plants into the garden. Winter melons require that nearly all of the growing season be warmer than 80°F.
Description. Winter melons come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. These melons are long trailing annuals.
• Casaba: round or ovoid with wrinkled, rough yellow-rind and greenish-whitish flesh weighing about 5 pounds (2.2 kg). Greenish tinge at stem end. Smooth-textured, creamy flesh is juicy and subtly sweet and less fragrant than other melons.
• Charental: elongated, globe-shaped melon with smooth to slightly netted grey-green rind with slight ridges and a firm deep orange, sweet flesh.
• Crenshaw: smooth yellow-green skin with pale green or salmon flesh weighing about 6 pounds (2.7 kg). A hybrid cross between the casaba and cantaloupe. Flesh is extra sweet and juicy with a sweet spicy aroma. Softer than other melons.
• Honeydew: more ovoid than round with smooth rind that changes from pale green to creamy yellow as it ripens weighing about 3 pounds (1.3 kg); green, white, orange, or pink-orange flesh.
• Persian: large, oval-to-round, strongly netted, unridged rind with a musky orange-colored flesh; similar to a cantaloupe, but larger, weighing 7 to 8 pounds (3.1-3.6kg)..
Yield. Grow 2 winter melon plants for each household member.
Site. Plant winter melons in full sun. Melons grow best in loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Add aged compost to the planting bed before planting. Melons prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
Planting time. Sow winter melon seed in the garden or set out transplants 2 weeks after the last average frost date in spring. Start melon seed indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting seedlings into the garden; start seed in biodegradable peat or paper pots at least 4 inches in diameter that can be set wholly into the garden so as not to disturb roots. (This is recommended in short growing season regions where the soil warms slowly in spring.) Winter melon seed will germinate in soil as cool as 50°F, but seed will germinate in 10 days at 65°F. Winter melons grow best in air temperatures ranging from 45° to 95°F. If temperatures exceed 90°F for several days, flowers will drop without setting fruit. Winter melons require 110 frost-free days to reach harvest and will tolerate no frost. In cool or short-season regions, grow smaller varieties that come to harvest quickest. In frost-free, warm-winter regions plant, winter melons in winter for summer harvest.
Planting and spacing. Sow melon seed 1 inch deep. Sow 4 to 6 melons seeds in mounds or inverted hills 24 inches across; thin to the 2 or 3 strongest seedlings in each hill when seedlings have developed three or four true leaves (or set 2 or 3 transplants in each hill). Cut the thinned seedlings at soil level with scissors. Space mounds or inverted hills 4 to 6 feet apart. Mounds can range in height from a few inches to more than 12 inches tall; mounds will allow vines to run away down the slope. Use inverted hills where the weather and soil are very dry and plants will benefit from the collection of rain or irrigation water. Make an inverted hill by removing an inch or two of soil to from a circle 24 inches across; use this soil to make a rim around the circle. The rim also will protect young plants from heavy rains that might wash away the soil leaving shallow roots exposed.
Water and feeding. Melons require plentiful regular, even watering for quick growing. Keep the soil moist until fruit reaches full size then stop watering while the fruit ripens. Avoid watering plants overhead which can result in mildew. Prepare planting beds with aged compost; add aged manure to beds the autumn before planting. Side dress melons with compost or manure tea every 2 to 3 weeks during the growing season.
Companion plants. Corn, radish, beans, nasturtium.
Care. Pinch back flowers to permit just 4 fruits to form on each vine. Cultivate carefully around vines until they cover the ground and smother out competing weeds. Support melons on a low tripod or A-frame trellis to keep them off wet ground; use netting or a bag to support trellis- or fence-grown melons. For sprawling melons, place a board under each melon to keep it dry and off the ground.
Container growing. Melons are usually too large to grow in a container. Select a bush, dwarf- or mini-cultivar to grow in a container. Place a trellis or other support next to the plant to save space and increase yields. Choose a container at least 18 inches deep that can support a vining plant. In short growing season regions extend the season by starting melons indoors and moving them out when the weather has warmed.
Pests. Aphids and cucumber beetles will attack melons. Hose away aphids with a blast of water or pinch out infested foliage. Hand pick and destroy cucumber beetles promptly; they can transmit cucumber bacterial wilt to melons.
Diseases. Melons are susceptible to wilt, blight, mildew, and root rot. Plant disease resistant varieties. Keep the garden clean and free of debris where pests and disease may harbor. Remove and destroy disease infected plants immediately.
Bacterial wilt is spread by cucumber beetles. Bacterial wilt will cause melons to suddenly wilt and die. Control cucumber beetles as soon as they appear.
Powdery mildew, a fungus disease, can cause melon leaves to turn gray-white late in the season. Select disease resistant varieties. Improve air circulation by spacing plants properly.
Harvest. Winter melons will be ready for harvest 110 days after sowing. When melons reach full size and stems turn brown they are ready for harvest. Leave melons on the vine until they are ripe. Ripe melons will slip easily off the stem; a half-ripe melon will require more pressure and may come off with half the stem attached. Ripe melons will have a sweet aroma at the stem end. Limit water for a week in advance of harvest to concentrate sweetness.
Varieties of winter melon:
• Casaba: Casaba (120 days); Golden Beauty; Marigold (88 days); Sungold Casaba (95 days); Tam Mayan (100 days).
• Charental: Alienor, Charmel (78 days), Pancha (80 days), Savor (75 days).
• Crenshaw: Early Hybrid Crenshaw (100 days).
• Honeydew: Honey Ice; Honey Orange; Honeydew (110 days); Honeymoon (92 days); Magic-to-Dew (92 days); Morning Dew; Orange Blossom; Sharlyn; Silverworld (90 days).
• Persian: Galia Perfume (80 days); Haogen Israeli (85 days); Small Persian.
• Others: Butterscotch: Sweetie. Oriental: Snow Charm. Spanish: Santa Claus (108 days); St. Nick Christmas; Sonora Canary. Tropical: Passport (78 days).
Storing and preserving. Melons will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week, but sweetness and flavor may diminish. Melon also can be frozen or pickled.
Common name. Winter melon, casaba, charental, Crenshaw, honeydew, Persian
Botanical name. Cucumis melo
Origin. South Asia, tropical Africa