Melons are a heat loving plant that are often grown in a greenhouse or polytunnel, but musk melons are a variety that can be grown outside in the British climate.
Nutritionally, they contain good levels of vitamin C and potassium, and have high water content.
Originating from the hot African continent, the capability to grow melons in the UK climate is due to the development of modern cultivars. It is recommended to grow musk melons in the warmest and sunniest part of the garden or allotment.
- April – May
- Planting depth: 1 cm deep
- Planting spacing: Minimum 1 m between plants in all directions
- July – October
- Eat fresh
Melons are a member of the cucurbit family that also includes courgette, marrow, squash, pumpkin, and cucumber. The growing method is very similar to other members of the cucurbit family in that they enjoy a rich soil, need regular watering, and are a spreading plant that naturally provides good ground cover.
The best time to sow musk melon seed is in April. A warm window sill or heated propagator is ideal. Sow the seed two to a pot, and approximately 1 cm deep laying on their side. If not using a propagator, covering the pot loosely with a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap may help with germination.
Like courgette and butternut squash, the young seedlings need to grow in a protected environment until all risk of frost has passed. If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, this can be an ideal environment to nurse musk melon plants until the weather warms. A cheaper alternative is a plastic greenhouse.
Transplant the seedlings when they have two true leaves into a bigger pot. If both seeds have germinated in a pot, either pinch out one plant to leave the strongest, or carefully separate the roots of the two seedlings and transplant into individual pots.
Depending on the weather, late May or early June is the most likely time for moving the young plants to their final growing position. First, I dig a big hole and place in the bottom well rotted compost or manure. The plant is placed on top of this, before bedding in with top soil and more compost. On the soil surface I create a shallow bowl shape, with the plant sitting at the bottom. This concave shape helps with watering, helping to channel the water towards the plant.
I find it is helpful to mark the plant position with a short cane. This acts as a guide for when the plant starts to spread, marking the point where I need to water.
Provided the weather is warm and sunny, musk melons need very little care apart from regular watering. Weeding around the plant is only required for the first few weeks, as very quickly the plant will spread and naturally suppress weed growth.
Eating and enjoying melon is all about the sweetness. The sweetness of the melon depends upon its ripeness, and this is greatly aided by growing in a warm and sunny position.
Musk melons are ready for harvesting when they are bigger than the size of an adults hand, and have developed a roughened web like texture on their skin.
It is always difficult to tell if a melon is ripe without cutting into it. Good indicators of ripeness is a yellowing of the skin around the ends of the melon, and a slight give in the skin when gently squeezed. If a melon is not ripe, it can be left on a sunny windowsill for a few days until ready.
When ripe, the orange flesh of a musk melon will extend almost right down to the skin, and the flesh should be smooth and soft to the taste, without an apple like crunch. If you open a melon and it is not quite ripe, simply leave the fruit for a day or two more. Covering the fruit in cling film will stop the flesh drying out.
See melon varieties.