Thursday, 16 June 2016

Melons made in Scotland

Cantaloupe in the making
I'm a bit of a sucker when it comes to growing new fruit and veg varieties, even if they are marginal at best. It is amazing what can be grown outdoors in this part of Scotland. Even if nobody grows it nearby that doesn't mean it can't be grown. Indoors the opportunities multiply.

Still, I probably would have shied away from melons had my neighbour not given me some seedlings in my first year here. I have now grown them for three years. Melons in Scotland? No problem, as long as you have space in a conservatory, greenhouse or polytunnel.

Cantaloupe-type melons work best, but baby watermelons are also worth a shot. Don't expect huge supermarket-style melons. They may be on the petite side, but the flavour will knock you out.

Growing melons is quite similar to growing cucumbers, which are in the same family group. However, it is not entirely straightforward:
  • You'll need to hand pollinate the plants if you're growing them inside. This involves picking a male flower (see picture on the right, below) and gently pressing it on to a female flower (below left) or using a cotton bud to transfer the pollen from the male to the female flower. One male flower should suffice to pollinate around three female ones. 

Female flower, with baby melon attached

Male flower, just on a stalk

  • Once one of the melons begins to swell, you'll need to support it. Ideally on a tile. Some people hang them in nets, but this seems very cumbersome to me. I grow them on a tiled table in the conservatory, but you could always place a spare tile underneath them in the polytunnel. On bare earth the fruit is likely to rot.
  • Allow lots of space for each plant. Even if you pinch out the growing tips (which you should do after the sixth true leaf or so), melons do sprawl. 
  • Feed and water them regularly, just like cucumbers.
Melons and cucumbers taking over

Realistically you can expect one melon per plant. The good thing, compared with other fruits, is that you can harvest the melon in one growing season - there is no delayed satisfaction while you watch a fruit tree grow.

But it is a bit of a faff, having to hand pollinate. You need to watch like a hawk for female flowers and deal with them within a few days before the flower wilts.

On the other hand, the flavour is exceptional and where could you buy a melon grown in Scotland?

Nice melon

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