Tips for growing and caring for melons, plus our favorite recipes come harvest time
1 of 8Photo by Rob D. Brodman; written by Julie Chai
Surprisingly fragrant and impossibly delicious, home-grown melons beat store bought any day of the week because you can pick them at the peak of ripeness and eat them while they’re still warm from the sun.
Plus, growing your own means you can choose from dozens of varieties instead of the few that are available in markets. The ones most commonly grown are either muskmelons, that have netted skin and salmon-colored flesh like cantaloupes, or late melons that are more varied and include honeydew, casaba, and canary. Whatever you choose to grow will be well worth the effort.
The warmer your climate, the better melons will grow. Where the growing season is long, sow seeds directly in the ground. In cooler coastal areas or where growing seasons are short, choose fast-maturing varieties, use season extenders, and start seeds indoors in small pots. Plant the seedlings outdoors after the soil has warmed to at least 60° (raised beds warm up faster than flat ground).
Planting. Choose a site in full sun and with good drainage. Mix a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost into the soil. Plant two or three seeds (or one plant) per hole, 1½ feet apart in rows 4 to 6 feet apart.
Season extenders. In cool coastal climates or areas with short growing seasons, lay black plastic over the soil and tuck in the edges, then cut an X for each plant. Use floating row covers until the weather warms or plants begin flowering.
Watering. Use drip irrigation or a soaker hose to avoid wetting the foliage. Water often enough to keep plants healthy. When melons reach full size (but before they're mature), cut back on watering to avoid splitting and bland taste.
3 of 8Photo by Rob D. Brodman; written by Julie Chai
How to harvest
When fully ripe, cantaloupes slip off the vine easily. Pick late melons when their color changes or when the leaf where the fruit attaches turns yellow.
4 of 8Photo by Dan Goldberg; written by Margo True
How to cook: Our favorite melon recipes
After a few months, once you’re ready to harvest, here are some of our favorite ways to eat melons. Of course you can always just slice them up and eat them as is, but if you’re feeling adventurous, give one of these recipes a whirl.
Berry-Melon Agua Fresca
This is exactly what you want to be sipping on your deck on a Sunday morning. Although we used honeydew in this recipe, you could use whatever melon you’ve grown or like best.
Sometimes you want just a little sweet, cool treat after a summer dinner—nothing rich or heavy. These pretty sorbets, which you should make with your best, most fragrant melons, are that kind of dessert.