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Melons are a great way to get kids interested not only in gardening, but also in eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Even if your children typically turn their noses up at Brussels sprouts or broccoli, they’ll find it hard to say no to sweet melons during a hot summer day.
Have a short growing season where you live? Try early varieties like fusarium wilt-resistant ‘Minnesota Midget’ cantaloupe, which ripens in only 60 to 70 days on shorter vines. Smaller watermelons like these Renee’s Doll Babies (shown above) ripen into yellow and pink fleshed melons in 68 to 80 days.
Here are ‘Minnesota Midget’ cantaloupes growing alongside onions in my garden a few years ago. You can see how the smaller melons grow on shorter vines, making them idea for those without a lot of space or time.
Get your kids involved in your melon planting. All types of melons are sun-loving plants that thrive in warm temperatures. Best planted from seeds sowed directly into the soil, melons should be planted after the last frost date. Wait until nights stay above 50 degrees F before you plant these warm-season fruits. Melons don’t transplant well. So, if you buy your melons from a local garden center, be careful not to disturb the roots when planting.
Melons like a rich soil that is well amended with organic matter like worm castings, aged manure or compost. Typically, they are planted in slightly rounded hills about 2 feet across. It’s best to plant about five seeds per hill, about 1 inch deep in a circle. Thin your melons to the two or three strongest plants, once they develop several sets of leaves.
Water deeply near the roots, as wet foliage can lead to fungal diseases. If you must wet the leaves, water in the morning so the foliage can dry before evening. Some gardeners like to place straw under melons, so they have a dry surface for ripening.
Here’s a darling small watermelon grown by my former neighbor Asana Draper in her backyard. The variety is unknown, but isn’t it adorable? It’s the perfect size for a small family, and sure to thrill kids of all ages in your household.
By the way, watermelons aren’t just thirst-quenching, they also have healthy amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium – as well as large amounts of the antioxidant lycopene. Of the muskmelons, cantaloupes win the nutritional prize. The low-calorie, high-fiber fruits are quite rich in vitamin A and vitamin C. Just don’t tell your kids if you think that’ll spoil their appetites for these healthy foods.
Try watermelons and cantaloupes in fruit salads, smoothies and other culinary dishes. Straight from the garden, these homegrown fruits are sure to delight the entire family.