I first tried to grow melons while still in the moving truck on the way up here. Living as we do does not allow for many impractical hobbies, but the successful growing of melons (an impractical, inefficient addition to the garden) has blossomed into a full-on obsession, full of much hand-wringing and not without tears.
The first year in this climate – when we paced about in a civilized dwelling, with running water and a bedroom that wasn’t also our kitchen – I didn’t get a garden down until the middle of June. Which meant that by the first frost a few months later, the melons I’d planted had just started to flower. Last year, I was marginally better at timing, but didn’t pay close enough attention to variety and ended up with something that was more suited to the tropics. By the time the season was over, I had a handful of little nuggets the size of golf balls. Cute, except I don’t golf.
This year, I was determined to get serious. I bought six (6!) seed packets of various species that all promised to deliver fruit within a short growing season, and all of which I validated with Master Gardener Google by typing in the name of the species plus the name of my state, and reading the resulting bloggers joyous yarns of success. Because we all know that people who write about their gardens on the Internet are never prone to hyperbole or bullshit.
So I had my six varieties of melon, but this wasn’t enough. In March, I started various seeds in peat pods – the largest pods I could find, so as not to disturb the roots. Somewhere else on the Internet I read that the seeds sprout healthier seedlings if soaked in milk, so I tried that with a handful. I think I even spat on a few. Gently. I will be eternally grateful that I never chanced upon the website insisting that melons grow well when packed into unforgiving bodily apertures. For the love of everything juicy, I’d have put them there.
Of course, by the time they were ready to go into the ground, I’d killed half the seedlings by leaving them out on too cold a day. I lost several more to the basic stupidity of starting plants from seed when you live in a place so small that the kitchen is your bedroom. The milk was a bust, or maybe I just let them soak long enough for it all to curdle; who can remember this many hours later? And the last few, well beyond recognition from my futile attempt at labeling, made it safely into the ground on one of the last few days of May. Because there were only a few left, I sowed the remaining seeds directly and forgot about them.
In what will go down as the surprise of the century, every plant I labored over died straight away, and those I seeded and left alone took right off. The harvest wasn’t especially bountiful, but it wasn’t a particularly forgiving season, with too much rain, a hailstorm, a flood, and very little of the season known as “summer.” I netted a few sugarbaby watermelons (not bad), some banana melons (a let down), and most deliciously, a couple of small-in-size-alone charentais, which are hereby known as Breasts of the Nubile Gods. By the time I was finished lapping and slurping and sucking and happily sighing, I was wishing I still smoked.
Next year I hope will be better, as I bypass all of the needless pre-season fussing (unless we find that long-lost big bag of money and build a greenhouse), get seeds down in time, and shoot anyone who tries to dump too much rain on them. But before get too far ahead of myself: I have grown melons, and eaten the melons I’ve grown, and Yea, It Was Good.
From the department of Awkward Nostalgia, allow me to present an early photo of Yours Most Truly, the very fruit of the loins of the foxy young lady to my right. I share this not to show off my incomparable capacity for adorableness, but to get to the bottom of my Melon Problem. In this photo, we’re sharing the last of a melon whose harvest from my grandparents’ garden is one of my first fond memories. You think this has anything to do with it?