This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol3", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
The Melon (Cucumis Melo), although never found in a wild state, seems to have been cultivated for centuries in Asia Minor, Persia, Afghanistan, etc, and for many generations has been a favourite fruit in British gardens. It is an annual like the Cucumber, and is also monoecious; that is, it bears male and female flowers on the same plant, quite distinct from each other. The leaves are somewhat thicker, and of a greyer green than those of the Cucumber, and the fruits vary in shape from round to elliptic, flattish, and elongated, according to the different sections or varieties, of which there are many.
Of late years Melon growing for market has become a big business, and in Guernsey especially large quantities of fruit are ripened each year for the English markets. The methods of culture differ somewhat from that practised in private establishments, in some of which there is almost as much importance attached to producing a new Melon as to the discovery of the North Pole.
Melons for market are grown in small span-roofed houses in the same way as Cucumbers in many places, being planted out in beds or borders of rich soil. In Guernsey, growers have large houses about 200 ft. long, 40 ft. wide, and 15 to 20 ft. high, strongly built, and the Melons are grown in large pots, the stems being trained vertically up string, or tied to long bamboo stakes. As a rule two crops of fruit can be produced easily in one year, between February and the end of August, but some of the Guernsey growers try a third crop after this, having raised the plants, of course, in good time.
It is best to sow melon seed singly in 3-in. pots, about an inch below the surface, in rich loam with a little well-rotted manure or leaf soil, and a little sand. The first sowing is made about the first week in February, and in a temperature of 75° to 85° F. the young plants are well through the soil in less than a week. The atmosphere should be humid yet buoyant, and the young plants must be carefully attended to to bring them on rapidly. At the end of two or three weeks from the date of sowing the seed the young plants will be large enough to transfer to their fruiting quarters, whether in pots or in specially prepared borders. The soil to be used then should consist principally of well-matured turfy loam, with which a fair supply of well-decayed manure may be well mixed. A little basic slag, owing to the fact that it contains lime and phosphates and is slow in its action. may also be incorporated with advantage - about 2 lb. of basic slag to 1 ton of soil being sufficient. Where beds are made up, they should be about 18 in. thick, and 1-2 ft. wide. The plants should be turned out of the pots carefully, and inserted in holes about 12 in. apart, taking care to have the collar of the plants not too deeply buried. The soil should be made firm round each plant, so that it shall not afterwards sink too much and perhaps snap the plant at the base from the wires or strings to which the stems are tied. When grown in pots too much soil is not given at first, space being left for additions and topdressings as growth proceeds. Even when grown in beds, the roots begin to show through the surface in the same way as those of Cucumbers, and topdressings of rich loam and well-rotted manure are essential from time to time.
Section of Male Flower.
Section of Female Flower.
Fig. 397. - Male and Female Flowers of the Melon (Cucumis Melo).
MELONS GROWN FOR MARKET At Messrs. Ambrose & Palmer's, Shepperton, Middlesex.
As growth proceeds, and the main stem lengthens, the side shoots are suppressed, to concentrate the vigour of the plant. It is important to do this before the side shoots attain any length, most growers pinching them out before they are 1/2 in. long. The flowers appear in due course, and the grower decides after a time whether he will have one, two, three, or more fruits on a plant. In Guernsey, the rule seems to be one fruit to one plant, as with the Canteloupe Melons grown in intensive gardens, but English growers usually allow two fruits to mature, all others being suppressed.
The female blossoms are fertilized by hand with pollen from the male flowers, but in the early stages, until the plants are well established and sturdy, all flowers are removed. The illustration (fig. 397) shows the difference in structure between the male and the female flowers, and how they are borne in the axils of the leaves.
During growth attention must be given to watering and syringing, and the air must be kept in a buoyant condition by proper ventilation. Cold draughts must be avoided, and the night temperature should not fall below 70° F. for the first crop, and about 75° F. for the second crop in summer.
The plants should be syringed in the mornings and afternoons with water having the same temperature as the house, and this operation may be continued until the fruits are well developed. When nearing maturity, however, the syringings must be discontinued, and more air may be given. Ripe melons will weigh from 8 lb. to 15 lb. each, and realize from 2s. to 4s. in the market. If seeds are sown the first week in February it will be possible to cut the first fruits by the first week in May - about three months from the date of the sowing, and the whole crop should be finished by the second or third week in June. A second sowing of seed may be made the second or third week of June, and fruit will be ready for cutting seven or eight weeks later, the whole crop being finished by the end of August.