This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Many amateurs shrink from growing Melons because of fancied difficulties and warnings from friends who have failed. But where manure is plentiful enough to afford such a hotbed as was described when treating of Asparagus, and when there is an idle frame, there is no reason whatever why amateurs should not produce 12 or even 20 lb. or more of fruit from an ordinary frame, if only sufficient care be taken to give the plants the proper conditions, and a free-fruiting hardy variety be grown. Being in possession of a small, hardy, and certain fruiter, we are in the habit of furnishing plants about the middle of May to friends who are invariably successful in growing good crops of well-ripened Melons a little larger than one's closed hand. Its name is "Little Golden Queen," as it is a selected variety of "Golden Queen." The first thing requiring attention is the raising of the plants. Some may be fortunate enough to get a Melon-growing friend to do this for them, and, failing that, may put up a hotbed for the purpose about the second or third week of April. If put up earlier, a difficulty may be experienced in keeping up a proper temperature; if later, the fruit will not ripen before September; but if done about the middle of April, the variety we name will ripen while the sun is strong, in the month of August. The temperature required is something like 80° to 90° for bottom-heat: if it gets higher, make holes in the bed, and pour in cold water to reduce the heat.
But if prepared as advised, by frequent turnings, and stable-dung and leaves be used in equal proportions, it is not likely to become too hot. After the bed is built, put on the frame, close the sash, and wait till the danger of the heat getting too high is past; then sow the seeds in good light loam, or in soil as near that description as possible, in 4 1/2-inch pots filled three-quarters with soil - three seeds in a pot; and having covered the bed all over with earth, old tan, old manure, cocoa fibre, or sawdust, to the depth of 1 inch and 5 inches where the pots are to placed, plunge the pots to the rims. Give no water if the soil be as it should be - moderately moist. Keep the air temperature about 70° to 75°, and admit air on every favourable opportunity; indeed, never close the light altogether. Should the weather prove severe, cover the frame with mats at night, letting the mat drop over the opening at top, to prevent currents of wind entering the frame; while excessive moisture will readily escape through the mat. Accumulated moisture is often a fatal evil.
Although the night temperature sinks to 60°, or even a degree or two below it at night, no harm will happen provided that the day temperature is at least 70°. In a dung-frame little water will be required; but do not let the plants suffer from drought, and let the water be as warm as the bottom-heat. When the plants have grown above the pot, fill the pot with soil to within a quarter of an inch of the top - the same as that recommended for sowing them in - taking care to have it warm by putting it into the frame the day previous. When the pots are fairly filled with roots, shift them into 6-inch pots, using the same soil. Always use the soil comfortably moist, but not sticky, to obviate the necessity of giving water until the roots make a fresh start. Meanwhile be getting materials ready for a second bed, in which to fruit the plants.
If all goes well, they will be ready for transplanting by the time they are from four to six weeks old. When the plants have made two rough leaves, rub out the centre bud, which will cause the plants to throw out three or four side shoots; these reduce to two. When the plants are just pushing these, then is the time to plant in the permanent bed. The best soil is a rather tenacious loam from an old pasture, which should be three months in store, and mixed with about a sixth part of horse-droppings if it be heavy, and cow-droppings if light, and a good watering of cow-urine. If good loam cannot be procured, common garden soil will do, and the nearer it approaches maiden loam the better - the worst soil for Melons being black kitchen-garden mould. Avoid rank manure and leaf-mould. Spread 2 inches of the soil all over the bed. Put a little mound in the centre about a foot deep, and 9 inches from the glass. Put two plants in the centre if of Little Golden Queen; but one will do of such kinds as Little Heath, which is a hardy amateur's Melon. When they start into growth, train a shoot of each in the direction of each of the corners of the frame.
Add more soil to the mound as the roots come through it, eventually covering the whole bed; and when shoots reach within a foot of the corners, nip off their points. By this time lateral shoots will be coming from the axil of every leaf,, which will show fruit at the first joint. In "Little Golden Queen," two and even three fruits at a joint is a common occurrence. Train these laterals at right angles to the main stem, and stop them, one joint beyond the fruit, and ever afterwards keep all young growths rubbed off. Thin the shoots rather than allow them to be crowded.
Should the weather prove bright and sunny, plenty of air will require to be given daily; and the frame should be closed in time to shut up sun-heat. In dull weather the temperature should not be lower than 70°, and with bright sun will be all the better if it run as high as 90°. Just before coming into flower, give a thorough soaking of liquid-manure, made of urine diluted with five times its bulk of pure water, and of the temperature of 80° or 90°; and, again, after the fruit is set, taking care that the soil is never allowed to become dry. When in flower, impregnate them. The way to do it is to take a male blossom by the stalk in the right hand, and with the left remove the flower proper, leaving the male organ untouched, and giving a gentle brush on the nail of the left-hand thumb, when, if traces of a yellow powder remain, it is in "condition" for giving the stigmas, in the centre of the female flower, a slight brush to cover them with the powder. The best time to impregnate is when the sun is shining about mid-day.
Should red-spider or thrips appear, attack them at the very first with a sponge and soap-water. The red-spider is likely to trouble them in hot seasons, and is so small as to be almost invisible. Syringings overhead will do much to prevent its appearance and to hold it in check; but if taken at once with a sponge and water it will not do much harm. If allowed its own way it will certainly destroy the plants. As the fruit approaches maturity, in cloudy districts or seasons, water should be withheld until the soil is rather dry, which will assist in giving a finer flavour than would be secured were the soil kept wet; but keep the foliage from flagging by excessive drought. In hot seasons, and in the sunny South, water will be required liberally to prevent the leaves flagging; and with strong sun, of course, the fruit is finer.