Melon Trellising

I usually grow my vining melons on a trellis. Trellising makes them easy to care for and the plants themselves are healthier. Getting melon vines off the ground keeps the powdery mildew under control and I can easily spray the leaves when the inevitable aphid explosion comes.

The Ambrosia F1 hybrid from Burpee is from the middle to the right. Watermelon is on the left, behind the tomatoes. These are three, 7 foot panels, long side up.

Since I like to research things, and I’m always looking for new ideas, I stumbled upon a site called “Extreme Melon Growing” by Wayne Schmidt. I am loosely following his directions. I’m not new at melon growing, but I have had some unexciting melons before. There’s nothing worse than putting time and energy into a plant and then not liking the fruit. I don’t frequently have it happen, but every so often it does.

100 degree heat is making my Armenian cucumbers a little sad, however I have both a light green, ribbed variety and a dark green, kind of fuzzy, smooth variety. The lighter ones are taking the heat better and growing more robustly. Armenian cucumbers are botanically melons, so they do not get bitter in the heat like true cucumbers do.

So, I was looking for someone who specializes in melons and that’s how I found the extreme melon site. I will admit that I do not use his instructions religiously, but I have added some of his tips. Mainly: the variety he uses (a Burpee hybrid: Ambrosia) and keeping my melons on high trellises. I have found quite a few other people who use the Ambrosia hybrid. It is a favorite of most melon growers.

Two types of Armenian cucumber.

The first year I grew melons down here in Texas (about 9 years ago) I grew Thai musk melons. They were strong growers, heavy producers and disease resistant. Unfortunately, nobody in my family liked the actual fruit, and there was plenty. I have also blindly bought some hybrid seed. They were OK. I have also tried heirlooms. They tended to be very bland. I have also had a couple of years where oppossums ate them all or I had to leave town, to visit family, when the melons were ripening. So with all of the little snafus I’ve had, I’ve become kind of frustrated with melons. I seem to have little problems, that create big consequences.

So, that’s the reason I started looking for help. The melon guy has definitely focused on getting the best melons he can grow, so I was eager to glean any knowledge he offered. The main thing I’m doing differently from other years is: using the seed variety he uses. Most everything else, I had already stumbled upon, over the years although I appreciated perusing his detailed site.

The main problem with trellising is that ripe melons release from the vine. On the site I listed above, he created elaborate wooden supports with dog toy cradles for his melons. I don’t have the patience for all that. However, you cannot grow melons up a trellis without at least using slings. Even melons that do not release (like watermelon) get way too heavy to grow without support. I looked around online for something I could use for slings and everything was ridiculously expensive. I thought about using old baby clothes that I have squirreled away, but I couldn’t bring myself to ruin my memories for melons. I also have been cleaning out my house over the past two years and I really don’t have a lot of old clothing to cut up. However, I remembered a skirt I’d bought a decade and a half ago on my honeymoon. It never fit right and it always looked dorky. Luckily, I hadn’t sent it to goodwill yet.The bottom half of a very full skirt. It was definitely made for melon trellising!An example of a failed fruit.

I got out my goofy skirt and cut it into strips. I tied the current, largest melon, up to where there is no pulling or pressure on the vine or fruit. I am happy that this skirt has no give. I think t-shirt strips would slowly sag as the melons got heavier. I have other melons out there, but I’ll wait until they’re a certain size to put slings on them. The reason being is that: the melon fruit can fail, yellow up and drop without maturing. It would make the extra work of trellising a waste of time.

My cut up skirt.

So far, I’m really happy with the variety of melon that he suggested. I saw some watermelon varieties he liked, but I already had watermelon seed, so I just used what I had. I may try his suggestions next year.

My personal suggestions for melons are: 1. Don’t use plastic grocery bags as slings. Something that doesn’t breath is going to ruin your fruit. 2. Use fabric that doesn’t give. Cotton doesn’t do well outside and the stretchy weave of t-shirt material’s usefulness will probably be short lived. 3. If you don’t have any fabric: cutting, tying and doubling (or tripling) bird netting might work. But that is up to the strength of your particular netting. 4. If you have let your vines run across the ground for awhile, they won’t take to the idea of sudden trellising. This is something that you need to attend to daily or every other day. Once the leaves have set a direction they won’t do well if you try to change that up. 5. Aphids and spidermites are always melon issues. If you are trying to go organic: spray neem oil before there’s a problem and respray weekly. If your vines are collapsing and you have a giant aphid or spidermite issue you can use malathion (although, it may be too late by then), but spraying weekly with non-detergent soap, horticultural oil (Canola oil from your kitchen will also work) or neem oil: are environmentally friendly ways to reduce aphids and spidermites. Even a strong spray of water on the underside of the leaves, from a hose, can knock down the aphid population. Be careful as you spray though because too much water pressure will tear up the leaves. For me: spidermites are harder to kill, because they weave webbing to protect themselves. That’s where the other suggestions like oil, soap and neem oil are a better fit. I also love that I can get to both sides of the trellises that I have. It makes spraying much easier. Watch for ants, as they actually farm aphids. If you have ants: get rid of them first. 6. Powdery mildew is less likely to destroy your vines on a trellis but it will still appear. Things you can try for powdery mildew: neem oil, 4 Tbsps of baking soda and a squirt of non-detergent soap in a gallon of water (baking soda is residual and not considered organic, so think that through before you use it), cows milk: about a cup of milk to a gallon of water (use low-fat milk to avoid the smell of spoiled milk), and oil of oregano (I always add this to whatever fungal spray I’m using because it knocks down fungal issues fast.) I add about a tsp to a Tbsps of aromatherapy grade oil of oregano, in a gallon of a fungal spray mixture. 7. The best way to treat fungal issues is to remove affected leaves. Diseased leaves will not recover. Better to get rid of them before they infect the rest of the plant.

Happy melon on a DIY trellis sling. You can see the vine is loose and there’s no pressure from the weight of the fruit.

I use remesh (a rebar mesh made for setting in and stabilizing concrete). You can find this in the concrete section of your local hardware store. Usually on the far end, last aisle, in construction. These are shorter than cattle panels and are therefore easier to transport if you do not have a pick-up truck. Remesh panels used to fit inside of our old minivan, but we have to strap them to the top of our current SUV. The price of remesh and cattle panels are comparable, per foot. At our local store a 3.5×7 foot piece of remesh is about $10 each. I then get 7 foot T-posts and use zip ties to attach everything.
This photo’s remesh is run length wise I’m currently running the long side up. 7 feet was topped quickly with this year’s melon vines.

As far as pruning I think the extreme melon guy is right: Removing leaves removes potential sugars that the leaf would create. He also takes down all but one melon per plant, at a time. Explaining that the sugars will be concentrated in the one melon. I’m not following that. I live in Texas and I have more than enough light and heat to ripen multiple fruit, plus I’m greedy and I want as many fruit as I can grow. I may remove a few fruit, but probably not looking to be as “extreme” as he is. Although, I’m sure he’s right and this practice would make for the absolute sweetest melons. I may try it next year to compare the two growing methods. But this year: I’m just looking to hone the melon growing skills I already have.The melon and Armenian cucumber forest. These remesh panels are fantastic for this use. You can pull melons through, towards the back, and sling them. Because we get critters in the backyard, I’m going to put up some hardware cloth across the back of the trellis to try to keep them out of the melons. Please excuse my dusty, pollen covered glass table. The “Godzilla” sand storm from the Sahara desert was still blowing through.
So, I definitely recommend looking through the extreme melon growing site. He’s got a lot of information and goes into great detail about his methods.Various melon slings. So far this year: I’ve been really happy with my melon luck. I have enjoyed reading through other’s experiences. Let me know what you do with melons. I’d be interested in any tips you have for this kind of cucurbit, since we all do things a little differently.As an update this melon variety lists “flowers” in the flavor profile. Our super high heat made the melons have a soapy, floral flavor that was almost bitter. The melon flavor is completely overpowered by the soapy, floral flavor. Since this one ripened under super high heat I’m hoping that the melons lose some of the floral flavor as the heat drops. If it doesn’t, I’ll have to find another variety. It’s a shame because the sweetness and melon flavor are excellent. Just needs less of a perfumey, floral taste.
We’re now on the third Ambrosia melon. Our temperature has dropped into the 90s. This is now an excellent melon. I’ll know next year that melons grown above 100 degrees may have this issue. I’m now very happy with this variety and will definitely grow it again.


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