The Extreme Gardener

Experiments in permaculture and
other gardening adventures in northeastern Vermont

2009 Melon Torture Test

February 28th, 2010

OK, I had my rant about how hard it is to grow a decent melon here. Despite the difficulties, and all my whining, I keep trying very early ripening melons.

Last winter I discovered the Homegrown Goodness forum, an amazing little nook on the internet populated by gardeners as extreme as I am, and even more so! There, I was seduced into trialing way more melons than I usually do by CanadaMike, who gardens in Ontario in a similar (zone 4) climate and is also melon compulsive… He sent me seed for some very interesting varieties from the former Soviet Union, and a French one he has been growing with some success.

Alas, the constant wet and cold we had here for June, July and August was pretty much a disaster for melons, the second very bad season in a row. It was impossible to evaluate flavor for the varieties trialed: no sun equals no sugar. Still, it was possible to observe and compare how the different varieties responded to bad conditions, the Extreme Gardener Melon Torture Test.

All varieties were started in paper pots inside and moved on May 14 to a shelf outside along a sunny wall of the house. (That is to say, where, if the sun ever were to shine, it might shine there… theoretically…).

The first challenge was a night that dipped into the low 30s. There was no frost, and no signs of frost damage, but over the course of the next few days that followed, a large number of the seedlings seemed to faint away, collapsing at the soil level and expiring. I suspect some kind of fungal disease, perhaps, or maybe it was simply the cold.

    The varieties sown and their status on June 10, the last day of transplanting into the garden:

  • 12 Piel de Sapo – survived with some damage
  • 3 Apelsinnaja (Russia) – 1 pot barely survived
  • 3 CUM 304 (Russia) – 1 pot survived
  • 3 Luneville – 1 plant in 1 pot barely survived
  • 3 Altajskaja Ulucsennaja (USSR) – survived well
  • 4 Sary-Guljabi – wiped out
  • 6 Gnadenfeld – 2 pots survived
  • 6 Zatta – robust, survived well

As soon as the female blossoms were ready, I tried hand pollinating, but they all aborted, probably because I was molesting them in cold wet conditions, which is asking for rot. I don’t like to touch plants at all when they’re wet, but last summer everything was always wet, so I had no choice. Anyway, none of my hand pollination of melons was successful, and I was kind of surprised that any set fruit at all. Possibly if I had left them alone, they would have set more fruit.

Altajskaja Ulucsennaja, first week of October

Altajskaja Ulucsennaja was quite impressive. It started blooming (males) on July 11, with females starting 2 days later, and it bloomed heavily compared to the others. Zatta and CUM 304 were soon to follow a few days later, followed by Gnadenfeld, and Piel de Sapo at the beginning of August.

Left, Gnadenfeld, September 13; and Zatta, October 10, right

Gnadenfeld is a Manitoba heirloom variety. It managed to set several fruit, and was the first to ripen, slipping on September 11. Near the end of September I threw clear plastic over the melons that were still out there for a little frost protection, though by then the vines were pretty well gone. In a warmer garden, the other melons probably would have ripened much sooner after Gnadenfeld – when the cool weather sets in, heat lovers like melons slow down, and are prone to rot, as you can see in Zatta.

Altajskaja Ulucsennaja was next to ripen on October 5. It set 3 fruits, and 2 of those, brought inside to ripen, kept fairly well (a couple of weeks). I want to try this one again – it seems very cold tolerant and disease resistant, and the fruit is quite large, even though the vines are not rangy. The plant seems to put a lot of its energy into the fruit. Texture is nice – medium firm, and no rot.

Zatta set 3 fruit, with the first ripe on October 7. It had some rot, but the flesh is firm and dense with a very dark reddish orange color, and a nice melon fragrance.

The one lone vine of Luneville set one fruit, which I cut up on October 29 when it showed some rot. The rot was easily cut away. The fruit weighed about 1#, and had a very dense, smooth texture and nice fragrance.

This last one was a surprise. No name, only an accession number, CUM304, from the former Soviet Union. There was only one little vine, but it set two small round fruits. They were not ripe when I picked them and brought them insde in mid October, and I was skeptical that they would do anything. However, they sat on a warm windowsill, and actually ripened at the end of December. They got a blush of yellow on the skin, and when I cut into them, the seed was matured. Now, as with the rest of the melons in this trial, there was no sugar to speak of, but at the end of December they looked to me like exotic cucumbers. Cabin fever can do that to you, but hey, it works for me. I made them into salsa and they were REALLY good with chili. In fact, I think I’ve discovered another good winter storage vegetable that I can grow. And who knows, maybe if they got a little sun…

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5 Responses to “2009 Melon Torture Test”

  1. Carol Radway says:

    Hi there,

    I am also gardening in the cold, in Manitoba, to be exact.
    We’ve had a relatively warm winter because of El Nino, but still we are all going stir crazy under 2 feet of snow.

    Winnipeg plows the snow off the Red River so we can walk and skate on it for about 2 months. My husband and I were out there Sunday along with 1000’s of others. There would have been more but for the Olympics.

    I have a small urban yard which we dug up several years ago and planted local wild flowers. In another patch we used the lasagna or sheet mulching technique, and produced a huge number of heritage “black” tomatoes near the house. I’m starting seeds I saved from those.

    I picked up some more heritage seeds last week at a Seedy Saturday seed exchange.

    They are starting under some lights in the basement, and continuing in a south-facing window. This makes me hopeful and cheerful, if not delusional.

    I have a long compost pile in the shade in the backyard, local grape vines in the sun, and some raised beds on an parking pad.

    Four bins of worms inhabit one of the cold rooms in our basement. I’m using the castings mixed with bought potting soil to start leeks, dill, summer savory, and hot peppers. Beet greens and wheat grass for eating now, and oriental poppies which grow here but cannot seed themselves.

    I’m going to experiment this year with building up a raised bed with a board stuck in the North side, to create a slope that will catch the sun better than a flat bed. I read that 1 degree of slope is equivalent to growing 150 miles further south.

    The problem will be with erosion while I am watering. Thinking about finding an old eaves trough, punching holes in it and laying it along the top of the slope.

    Good to read about your experiments. Keep ’em coming.

    Yours, Carol

  2. the extreme gardener says:

    Thanks for stopping by Carol, and great to hear about your urban gardening. I think sloping the beds towards the sun helps a lot in cold climate gardens. Two of our big garden areas are on southern slopes, so the beds naturally have that orientation. The other large gardening area has a slight northerly slope, and in general doesn’t get as much sun, so I never grow heat lovers there.
    I love your idea about using the old eaves gutter to drip irrigate the bed!

  3. Ottawa Gardener says:

    I am very interested in winter storage melon / cuke-melon whatevers. Anything large that will store nice downstairs sounds great to me. Yes, it was a general torture year for many plants and vine crops did pathetic for me. I didn’t try any melons last year but I guess that’s good. I’ll be keeping my eye on how CUM304 does. I gotta say that Altajskaja Ulucsennaja sure looks nice.

    Canadamike is such a seed pusher 😉

  4. gayle says:

    Melon growing up here is the very definition of optimism, isn’t it?

  5. Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm says:

    I am in Ontario with similar weather conditions to yourself. I have also been trying to grow watermelon and cantaloupe but have been largely unsuccessful. I did grow two large ripe cantaloupe two years ago and a handful of tiny, but ripe watermelons this year.

    Next year I am going to start them early under lights indoors and baby them. (There’s always next year.) After all, I finally managed to grow a lot of bell peppers, successfully, this year by doing that.

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