HOW (NOT) TO GROW MELONS
Iwas five when I first failed to grow a sweet, juicy watermelon. (After we sowed seeds in egg trays at school, a mouse snuck into our classroom at night and ate the lot.)
In the 40 years since, my luck hasn’t improved much. In fact, until I embarked on this seed-to-fruit-salad melon trial for
NZ Gardener, I’d never grown a watermelon bigger than a tennis ball until last summer. And, despite the evidence to the contrary on these pages, I still haven’t.
This time last year, I sowed 18 types of melons in recycled punnets filled with fresh seed-raising mix. I popped each punnet inside a clear plastic bag (to retain moisture) and lined them up along the sunny, north-facing windowsills of our converted stableblock. And then I kept my fingers crossed, uncrossing them every few days to untie the bags and inspect the seed-raising mix for signs of germination.
After 21 days, 12 varieties had sprouted. However, in most of the punnets, only 1-2 seeds had come up, and six varieties were a complete no-show. The germination all-stars, with a 100 per cent strike rate, were ‘Crimson Sweet’, ‘Golden Midget’, and ‘Georgia Rattlesnake’ watermelons; the musk melon ‘Jenny Lind’; and the rock melons ‘Aspire’, ‘Charentais’, ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Tuscan Delight’.
I cosseted these seedlings in punnets until they had their second set of true leaves, then transplanted them lovingly into a raised bed with a protective cloche over the top to keep them warm and snug.
Again, I crossed my fingers. And things pretty much went downhill from there. All my baby watermelon vines sulked for at least three weeks after transplanting. Half never made it to puberty. Only three vines produced any fruit, and none of those fruit made it past the 5-6cm juvenile stage before rotting off.
Perhaps they knew I’d cheated on them. In mid-November, I bought a grafted ‘Rapid Red’ watermelon seedling on a whim from the garden centre. I bedded it in with my raspberries and, by mid-February, picked four perfect fruit weighing 3-4kg each.
So my advice? Unless you have a large hothouse, or better luck than me, don’t waste your time sowing watermelon seeds. Just buy grafted plants and give yourself a fighting chance of getting fruit!
On the plus side, my rockmelons were a surprising success (see over the page).
After 40 years of failure, I've found the secret to watermelon success: buy grafted seedlings!