New to growing melons - need help

northerner_on(Z5A ONCanada)May 2, 2012

I am up North in Canada with a short growing season and would like to grow a few melons. I plan on growing these melons on 4 hugelkultur beds built aginst my fence (made of about 4 inch planks). I have seed for Minnesoto Midget; Collective Farm Women; Cantaloupes Angel Hybrid and Lil' Loupie, and watermelon Sugar Baby. I figure I would try maybe one plant of each, which are small, early, and have been grown here.

Firstly, should I start the seed indoors or direct sow? Our last frost date is next week, but it has been unseasonably cold (snow until last weekend) and will be another maybe 3 weeks until the earth has warmed up. I could have good sized seedlings by then if I started them indoors now. But can these plants handle the transplant shock and thrive?

Secondly, I need to grow these plants on a trellis because we are infested with slugs. The slugs are present because of large amounts of wood on the property, hence the hugelkultur beds to get rid of some of it. They will attack the fruit as they did when I tried Minnesota Midget some years ago on the ground. The planks of the fence would be too thick for them to twine around, so would regular trellis from the lumber yard be suitable? I have a couple of sheets left over from our deck which I could perhaps cut in half and attach supports/legs on either side. Would the fruit all have to be 'hammocked' to grow to maturity? I am saving onion bags for this purpose if needed.

So what do you think of my ideas? Does anyone think I can grow melons successfully this way? If anyone has had success with this method I am hoping to try, can you give me some guidance on what kind of trellis and when should I plant them out? Your replies would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

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Your seed should have already been started. I live in zone 6-7 in the US and it is difficult for me to grow melons, especially the 'cantalope' varieties. Buy slug bait to get rid of the slugs. You can try to grow melons, but make sure they have the shortest growing season and are small. Watermelons might be easier. And yes, they must be 'hammocked' from your trellis. I too grow melons vertically. I use bird netting. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 8:24AM
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Melons really prefer to be direct sown in warm soil. People with short growing seasons often start them inside, and they will survive transplant when young [a pair of true leaves], but all the anecdotal evidence I've seen, including my own experience, is that direct sown plants will overtake the transplants and grow more vigorously.

What I'd suggest is starting them in mid-May inside, then planting a couple of seeds in the same hills as each of your transplants, saving one after the sprout. Then you can judge the results yourself.

Also, you should try some way to warm the soil first.

Blacktail Mountain is another watermelon supposed to be bred for short season areas.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 10:29AM
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Important note here.

Sugar Baby watermelons are seedless hybrids, and their pollen is sterile. You need to grow another type of non-sterile/hybrid watermelon next to it in order to pollinate the sugar baby for it to produce fruit.

Personally I'm growing a Cream of Saskatchewan next to my Sugar Baby. Both are small and sweet, plus the CoS has white flesh so its really unusual looking.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 2:11PM
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edweather(Zone 5a/b Central NY)

I grow melons every year. You should have started them indoors already, but start them now indoors. Black plastic or weed fabric is a huge help to warm the soil. I've never grown with the trellis method, but others do. And yes, you will have to fight to keep the slugs from eating the seedlings. I've had many slug wars. The last time I used diatomaceous(sic) earth as a barrier. I don't use any kind of slug bait because it attracts them, and I'll get 3 times as many. Sugar Baby a seedless hybrid?? My Sugar Baby is just the garden variety OP version sold at any store. It has tons of seeds. You've gotten some good suggestions, the main thing is to get them started ASAP. Use a good seed starting mix, MG, or Jiffy. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 2:28PM
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The honeydews bred by Johnny's and offered in their catalog were developed for colder Northern climates, and I was really impressed with them. And, the price has fallen, they were asking as much as $12.95 per packet the first year they were introduced IRRC, now they're a lot cheaper.

Here is a link that might be useful: These melons -- they're great

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 4:27PM
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I've grown Early Dew, but they're just not early enough.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 7:43PM
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northerner_on(Z5A ONCanada)

Thank you everyone for your helpful information and suggestions. I had planned to start my seeds a few weeks ago but ran out of space under my lights which are now producing a promising crop of peppers (sweet and hot), tomatoes and a couple of annuals. The last couple of years I grew butternut squash and my cucumbers from direct sown seeds, and felt I could 'get away with' starting them outdoors, but I guess I goofed. I will be starting my seeds in a few hours, and I like the idea of the netting for vertical growing. I think that might be easier to instal. And I am ready for the slugs. I have used slug bait some years, but I hunt them down with ammonia solution, and I do a 'slug patrol' every night around 9:00 p.m. I cover tender seedlings with cut off pop bottles so I get by. I finished my last bed today, so I will get out my plastic to cover them. I have been using that method for my cucumbers and it is said to inhibit cucumber beetles as well, which have not been a big problem here. So thanks again and I'll let you know how I fare.
P.S. Thanks for the link to Johnny's, Denninmi. This year I'm using traded seeds, but if this works, I may want to invest in proven seeds next year. N.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 12:27AM
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You've got lots of good advice already, and I really hope you have some success with your melons. Anything you can do to increase the heat in your melon bed will help tremendously. I would definitely recommend black plastic mulch and especially some kind of heat-capturing row cover. My experience has not been great with bottle cloches (I was using the large 5 gallon water jugs) so I now use those clear corrugated plastic panels held into a tunnel shape with home-made heavy duty wire u-shaped pins. My chiles, tomatoes, eggplants, basil, cucumbers, and melons all love this setup during the months of May and June (after that the plants are too big and need pollination).

If you've had success growing your own cucumbers from seed, then you'll probably be able to grow the early melons like Minnesota Midget. Melons and cucumbers are closely related. Any type of watermelon may be more of a challenge in my opinion. The earliest I've tried is Blacktail Mountain, bred for the short high elevation growing season.

By the way, growing zone is pretty much irrelevant here, and your average last frost date is not a huge concern either. If you said that your summers are always cool and rainy I would be worried. In other words, there are plenty of places in much warmer zones than yours that rarely experience frost that still lack the summer heat to grow melons (parts of the West Coast), and at the same time places with an average last frost date similar to yours that are famous for their melons (Rocky Ford, CO for example). So think hot, and don't admit defeat until you've really tried this thing out.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 1:11PM
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northerner_on(Z5A ONCanada)

Hello, Fabaceae_native. You have provided some very valuable informtion and advice and I thank you for it.

Our summers are very hot with temperatures well over 90 degrees F for the period mid-May to mid-July, with the warm period usually lasting from May to September. Our hot period arrives very suddenly with no appreciable spring season, and leaves just the same. But this year has been very unusual: it is still cool and we had snow last weekend. We are also having rain now, which is unusual, but we had very little snow this winter so perhaps nature is catching up.

In a 'regular' summer I believe I would be fine with respect to warmth. I looked at my records for the last two years and I have successfully sown cucumbers (two sowings), butternut squash, zucchini, gourds, and Minnesoto Midget melon in late May with success. The melons were on the ground, not in the most favourable spot for sun, and the slugs got to the fruit, not the plants, and we got a few small sweet fruit. I also grow okra, tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers which are all heat-lovers. I wanted to be extra early this year, but the weather is not co-operating. My beds are in full sun all day and I believe that with clear plastic covering (which I have used for the cucumbers) they should be warm enough. I just hope we have enough sun in time.

The melons I will try are all 'early' varieties and were grown here in Ontario, but I love a challenge and I'm trying the watermelon to see what happens. Thanks for your encouragement, I won't give up.

I am not familiar with the clear plastic corrugated sheets of which you speak, but I will check them out at Home Depot where I'll be going tomorrow to check out the netting which I may use. They seem to be a very good idea, so I'll try to locate them in case I need them.

This is going to be quite a little adventure for me, and I'll keep you posted. Much appreciated. N.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 3:18AM
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