By Vina Medenilla
A millennial gardener from Pasig has decided to grow her food on an L-shaped balcony upon realizing the impracticality of buying food in stores. This gardener is Nicole Obligacion, 30, who has been growing plants for seven years now. Among the seasonal crops that she grows are muskmelons (Cucumis melo).
Things to consider when growing melons in containers
Obligacion shared some of her experiences in growing muskmelons in containers or in a condo setting that others may find useful.
Sunlight. Growing melons will require full sun exposure. They must receive eight to ten hours of direct sunlight daily for them to grow well.
Timing. The best time to sow melon seeds is around January to February. Three to four months later, you’ll be able to harvest the fruits as long as the growing requirements are met. Obligacion recalls, “I tried growing watermelon (which has similar growing conditions to melon) during the rainy season and it did not end well. The male and female flowers were drenched by the rain, and the lack of sunlight (due to the dark and cloudy days) hindered the plant from growing.”
Germination. Melon seeds can germinate as fast as less than a week. Sow them directly on the ground or start in small cups first before transplanting them into their permanent containers.
Container. For the containers, use a 20” wide x 20” deep pot or a five-gallon container to grow them. Limit each container to one melon plant to make space for its roots to freely develop and to receive sufficient nutrients. Obligacion suggests, “Let the melon vine crawl horizontally (resting on mulch or cardboard on the ground) or vertically (along a trellis).” The vine may extend for about a meter long, which will depend on the container size. Since space is confined, expect the melons to bear smaller fruits as compared to melons grown on the ground or in a wider space such as raised beds.
Soil. As for the medium, the soil must be able to retain moisture and must be well-draining. Obligacion says to use loam soil incorporated with materials such as compost, vermicast, carbonized rice hull, and chicken manure. You can also add mulch atop the soil to help retain moisture and to prevent weeds and soil-borne diseases from spreading.
Water. Consistency is crucial when it comes to watering. Stick to a watering schedule to keep the soil moist. If not, your melon plants may find it hard to adjust to sudden changes. Avoid overhead watering or watering from the top, drenching the leaves and flowers, which makes them more susceptible to fungal diseases. This may also prevent your plants from having successful pollination.
“Once the melon reaches its full size and starts to ripen, you can lessen the amount of water you give. But still, water them consistently to avoid cracks on the melon fruit,” Obligacion explained. She adds that heavy rainfall may also cause the fruit to break or lose a bit of sweetness.
Fertilizer. Apart from the natural materials added to the soil mix, fertilize your melon plants every month to help them produce fruits. This will also help repel pests and diseases. For pest control, Obligacion prefers using neem oil. Procedures for using neem oil may be found online.
Hand pollination. Like watermelons, melon plants have male and female flowers that are necessary for pollination. Transferring the yellow pollen from the stamen of male flowers to the stigma of female flowers is the goal in hand-pollinating muskmelons, so you can only perform this task when both flowers are open. Obligacion explained: “You can pick one male flower from the vine, remove its petals so the stamen is left, and then, gently tap it on the center of the female flower.”
After a few hours of pollination, the petals of the female flower will eventually close. In a few days, if pollination is a success, the fruits will begin to develop and will gradually increase in size.
Harvest. To know if your melons are ready for harvest, their color must turn from green to orange or yellow-orange. Once you smell it, the fruit must have a sweet smell, which you can confirm once you smell closer to the fruit’s stem. The stem will also be easy to separate from the fruit when you slightly move the melon.
Storage. Post-harvest, you can store ripe melons up to a maximum of a week, while sliced ripe melons can last up to three days when kept in the refrigerator.
Despite Obligacion’s limited resources, taking up the challenge of growing crops that she didn’t expect to have made her discover and learn so many things as a condo gardener.
Photos courtesy of Nicole Obligacion.
For more information, visit Anyone Can Garden.