Nice Melons!

We've been foraying into fruit at Better Farm this year, with two new peach trees, a bunch of raspberries and blueberries, an attempt at strawberries (thwarted by small creatures, unfortunately!), and these: delicious, juicy, cantaloupes and watermelons.

Personal Watermelon
Watermelon is 92 percent water by weight, mildly diuretic, and contains large amounts of beta carotene. There are nutrients in the rind, as well. Miniature, or "personal" watermelon fruits reach only 5 to 8 inches in diameter. These smaller melons already require less space than full-size watermelon varieties, making them a good choice in gardens with limited space, but even though the melons are small, the plants still take up more room than many other garden plants. Combining a personal melon variety with space-saving planting systems frees up the most space in the garden bed. We tried growing these tiny fruits with mixed results—but the ones that grew to fruition are absolutely delicious.

Personal watermelons are an efficient way to enjoy this juicy fruit—beyond whole, seedless icebox varieties, which weigh 10 to 25 pounds, and pale pre-cut pieces that come shrink-wrapped or in plastic tubs. Ick. Personal watermelons typically grow on vines that sprawl over a large swath of garden bed, similar to how standard-size melons grow. If you're short on space, these small melons also do very well grown vertically on trellises. Some personal melons are hybridized to grow on bushy, more-upright plants. These varieties don't grow melons on the bushy part of the plant, but instead produce fruit on 2- to 3-foot-long vines. Growing one of these varieties in conjunction with a space-saving planting method uses the least amount of space possible. Bush Baby, Stone Mountain and Sugar Baby are three bush varieties. 


North Country breakfast: backyard egg omelet with homegrown tomato, broccoli, and squash; homemade zucchini bread, and fresh-picked cantaloupe.
Cantaloupes are the most popular variety of melon in the United States. Packed with vitamin C, this fruit is 90 percent water—making it ideal for hot summer days. Protein and fat content make up only around 1 percent of the cantaloupe. Cantaloupe's orange flesh shows the presence of beta-carotene, the same substance that gives carrots their distinctive color. Your body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, an important vitamin for cell growth and repair, eyesight and healthy skin. The vitamin C provides power to fight infection and inflammation—a large wedge of cantaloupe provides 37 mg of vitamin C, a significant percentage of the recommended daily dose of 90 mg for adult males and 75 mg for adult females.Cantaloupes contain particularly high concentrations of potassium, with around 273 mg in a large slice. This mineral has a vital role in the human body. It acts as an electrolyte, which means it helps to conduct biological electricity through the body. The helps keep your heart pumping, your digestive tract moving and allows your muscles to expand and contract. Cantaloupe also contains smaller amounts of sodium, phosphorus, magnesium and other minerals in lower quantities. 

But for many home gardeners, the space these fruits require makes growing cantaloupe an unrealistic. But with a few simple modifications, almost any home garden can produce this delicious fruit. Trust us—when you taste the difference between a store-bought cantaloupe and one that's been homegrown, you'll make it a priority to get some seeds in your backyard, pronto.

Here's how you can grow your own even if you're short on space. Instead of planting in hills as suggested, plant a single row along a length of fence or trellis. As the seeds germinate and the plants begin to grow, tie them to the fence and train them to climb up their trellis. As the plants continue to grow, check on the fruits daily to make sure the plants keep from  flopping down to the ground. Unlike their field-grown counterparts, cantaloupe grown upright doesn't get any shade and water will evaporate off faster. Keep up with your watering and mulching! When the plants start to set fruit, more support will be necessary to keep the fruit from snapping off the vines. Nylon stockings work GREAT for this! As each cantaloupe gets to be the size of a golf ball, cut a generous length of nylon pantyhose and make a hammock to support each one. Daily checking and periodic adjustment of the support will be necessary. As the fruits near maturity, make additional supports with old fabric fashioned into slings.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.