HOW (NOT) TO GROW MEL­ONS

NZ Gardener - - 2018 Gardener Of The Year -

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!

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