The species of Cucumis melo are divided into several groups. Don’t bother trying to memorize these groups. Just use them as a reference for understanding. Once you have had this introduction, you can start exploring them. The real knowledge will come with growing melons:
- The Cantalupensis group: includes cantaloupe, muskmelons and persian melons.
- The Inodorus group: includes honeydew, crenshaws and Juan Canary.
- The Flexuousus group: includes snake melons and Armenian cucumber (yes Armenian cucumbers are not cucumbers but are melons).
- The Conomon group: includes asian pickling melons.
- The Dudaim Group: includes the mango melon, pomegranate melon, tigger melon and Queen Anne’s pocket melon. These are heavily aromatic melons .
The species Citrullus lanatus refers to watermelons. The diversity within this species becomes apparent when looking into the vast number of heirloom crops that are only recently becoming available to the world outside of Africa where watermelons are native.
Finally I should mention the wild African melons. These are not edible, but are grown as ornamentals in the vegetable garden. The fruits are exotic and will attract questions from any visitor of your garden.
Bitter Melon I am leaving out of this article because I have already addressed it in the article, Bitter Melon: Tell Me I’m Not The Only One Who Loves You. Wax Melons and Fuzzy Melons are another subject I will address later.
Melons love heat. Good thing, because in Tucson we have a LOT. Prepare soil with lots of manure and soil conditioner. Melons want nice rich garden soil. Because melons are generally tropical fruits, they want very warm soil. Some people start seeds indoors and transplant seedlings in late March (in Tucson). This is not a bad plan so long as you are very careful with the transplants. Of course, one should ALWAYS be very careful with transplants. Because we live in a climate with a long growing season, direct seeding will still give you decent results, sometimes even BETTER results.
Mulch plants well and try to keep watering regular without drowning plants (ensure good drainage). If the plants’ needs are met consistently, they will produce earlier than if you shock them by mistreating them upon transplant, or letting them dry out when young. They don’t like setbacks and will produce much later if such events occur.
Plant in full sun, and feed every once in a while with fish emulsion, kelp and/or compost tea. Melons are great planted with corn. Avoid planting with potatoes.
Harvesting melons and watermelons is a skill only you can develop with practice. Even the experts get it wrong sometimes. If your fruits are not sweet, don’t assume you did something wrong or picked a bad variety. Most likely you just picked the fruit too soon. Some melons slip (detach from the vine) to let you know they are ripe. Many do not. Some you can judge ripeness from their sweet aroma. Others let you know with a tendril (the little curly part of the vine that helps it climb): the one closest to the fruit will turn brown. You can also watch for changes in the stems, or the part where the blossom fell from (opposite the stems). All in all, it’s probably best to err on the side of waiting if you want to experience the true sweetness of a melon. And with some of these heirloom types of melons, you will never experience anything more uniquely sweet.
Truly the best source of melons is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This amazing company travels the world, to places remote, to find the most unusual varieties. And yes, the have the normal stuff too.