As part of the cucurbit family, melons are related to gourds, squashes and pumpkins. Sweet melons, such as watermelon and rockmelon, grow on trailing vines similar to pumpkins. Feed them with plenty of nutrients such as a tomato fertiliser with added magnesium.
In warmer regions, plant melon seedlings in early spring, but in cooler states wait until late spring when the last of the frosts have gone and the earth has warmed up enough for good root growth. Like cucumbers, melons require moisture to grow, but if given too much too often the flavour of the fruit won’t develop fully.
Knowing when melons are ripe for picking is the secret to good eating. Pale flesh indicates the watermelon has been picked before it’s ripe. Leave them on the vine for as long as possible to ripen. The bottom should turn from white to cream and the melon should make a dull sound when thumped. If the stem starts to brown and the fragrance becomes very strong you may have left them too long. Also, watermelons grown in cool, wet conditions may not ripen completely and can lack both colour and flavour.
When deciding the best time to pick melons, apply the four-senses test:
- Look – Check the stripes around the fruit have almost disappeared and the base is yellow-white or cream-yellow rather than green or white.
- Listen – Tap the fruit with your knuckles. A dull, hollow sound indicates it’s ready, while a sharp, metallic sound means it needs to be left to ripen on the vine.
- Feel – Honeydew varieties are hairy when unripe, with the skin gradually becoming smooth and slippery as the fruit matures.
- Smell – Rockmelons and honeydew melons have a strong, sweet smell when ripe.