Hartley Magazine

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Melon Ripening

Melon ‘Alvaro’, just picked from Lia’s greenhouse.

Our greenhouse has produced its first melon! In fact we have two, from our three plants…but never mind that shocking lack of productivity. We are delighted with ourselves anyway. Melon growing in the UK is clearly not going to be keeping any wolves from any doors, but it is still a thrill to have produced them. There are several still small ones on the plants but with the nights turning colder and the leaves turning yellow I suspect that those two melons will be our lot. There is always next year, as the gardener’s mantra goes.

The reason for the paucity of fruits is partly our summers, not this one in particular but all of them, which are lame and short compared to those enjoyed in melon-friendly parts of the world such as the Mediterranean. Melons need sunshine and heat but they also need plenty of time in which to grow, fruit and ripen, and so growing them is always going to be a bit of a race against time in our climate. But I suspect it is more to do with my own personal timing. We found these plants (‘Alvaro’, a chanterais melon type) in the garden centre and popped them in relatively late in the season, almost to fill a gap. They grew brilliantly and seemed very happy with life in the greenhouse, but the flowers and subsequent fruits didn’t come until pretty recently, leaving the plant little time to finish them off before the colder weather. It is a reminder (and one which I seem to need to be given every year) that there is really no point in putting any tender greenhouse crops in late. It’s early or not at all.

Next year the trick will be to start them off myself, and good and early, ideally in April. This will have to be indoors in the heated propagator, as it is too cold in the greenhouse in spring, and melons love a bit of heat. The melons from the Real Seeds catalogue look particularly tempting. The company specialises in edible plants that flower and fruit early in the year, so making them more likely to reach maturity in our short summers. In addition to this handy characteristic, they have a knack of choosing delicious sounding varieties too. ‘Minnesota Midget’ is a tiny, hand-sized, sweet melon. The size means it ripens really early (as there is less of it to ripen) but it also starts producing flowers very early in its life too. It would seem like a good bet for getting our melon confidence up after this year. ‘Rich Sweetness’ is another little one, cricket-ball sized and early with it, and fragrant like a cross between a cantaloupe and a honeydew. And finally I fancy ‘Prescott Fond Blanc’ which the Real Seeds catalogue labels ‘DELICIOUS’, and which looks like a winter squash with knobbly skin but has sweet orange blushed flesh and a fabulous scent.

So next year we will be beset by mini melons all summer long, but hey, for now we have two in the hand, and we are extremely proud. We have watched them swell all summer and pondered when the best moment to harvest would be. In fact it turns out that melons let you know. I have been told that you know the moment to pick a melon by the smell, and sure enough all of a sudden the greenhouse was filled with the intoxicatingly sweet scent of melon, it’s quite astonishing. I’m hoping for a glut of melons next year, and for the greenhouse to smell like that much more often.