Our second year of growing vegetables, which was last year, I decided to pitch in, help out my son, and expand the types of plants we had. Which also meant adding other options. My son and I turned an area of the back yard that had been used as a fire pit into a melon patch, where we planted some watermelon plants I had sprouted quite successfully from some old seeds that I wasn't sure would sprout.
Since these seeds had sat in the fridge for a few years, I wasn’t sure how well they would sprout, so after doing a bit of research I found a good option to sprout seeds, especially those that may be harder to sprout than others. It’s a simple way to provide the needed heat and moisture seeds need to get them to sprout.
First you place your seeds in a row on a piece of damp paper towel. Don’t soak the paper towel, just get it damp. Then you cover the seeds with a second piece of damp paper towel, then put them into a ziploc bag and place the bag on the top of the fridge, in the back, so that the heat from that area of the fridge will get the seeds to sprout. Leave them there for a week, then after the first week check to make sure the paper towel is still damp. You might be lucky and some seeds might have sprouted by then, but for me it wasn’t until after the second week that my watermelon seeds sprouted. I removed the sprouted seeds very carefully from the paper towel and planted them into a large plant pot and waited for them to get big enough to then transplant to the garden. Once the watermelon plants had begun to start growing vines to attach to something.
We discovered a funny surprise later on after transplanting our new watermelon plants to the melon patch. When my son and I had gotten the melon patch soil ready for planting we added some compost soil to the newly broken up soil, as well as some Miracle Grow soil, to add in nutrients to help the plants grow. We compost all of our fruit and vegetable leftovers and put them into a plastic container we keep in the kitchen. Once that container gets full we then take it outside and dump it into our composter in the backyard. As long as we keep the compost damp and stir it at least once or twice a week those scraps of vegetables and fruits break down into composted soil, which we can use in our garden to provide nutrients to our plants that we wouldn’t normally get in the clay soil that is prone to our area of Texas.
What we didn't know was that there were cantaloupe seeds in that composted soil, so we later discovered newly sprouted plants that ended up being cantaloupe plants mixed in with our watermelon plants.
Watermelon or Cantaloupe Plants?
The problem was that since I was new to melon growing I didn’t know which plants were watermelons and which were cantaloupes. All I knew was that I had two different types of flowers, and I knew that meant two different types of melon plants. So I did some research on Google, the go to for information, to find out which flowers were the watermelon plants and which were the cantaloupes. But it was still a funny and unexpected surprise when I discovered we had both plants in our melon patch.
In the photos above there are two different flowers, which took a bit of research to learn to distinguish between in order to ensure I was self fertilizing a female watermelon with a male watermelon flower, and vise versa for the cantaloupes. The first photo is a picture of a cantaloupe flower, which looks similar to a cucumber flower. The second image is a watermelon flower. Notice how the middle of that flower is larger, and the flower color is much lighter. Once you know what each one looks like it makes it easier to distinguish between the two.
Not knowing this melon patch would be a learning lesson lol, I didn't take very good photos of the flowers themselves to show you the differences, but I did find a few that can at least give you an idea on the differences between the two plants.
Innocent Melon Patch To Crazy Vines Everywhere!
In the image above you can see how innocent looking my melon patch began. If you look at the small plant on its own on the left, that is a new cantaloupe plant. Although I didn't know what it was at the time.
From the two images above you can see that the fruit itself is easy to tell apart. The watermelon looks like a baby watermelon, and the cantaloupe looks like a small green ball. What I also wanted to show you is how quickly I went from starting off with a few small plants to tons of intertwined shoots. The only way I was able to figure out what was what at first was by the flowers, and then it was a mixture of flowers and the type of melon that was growing. But it was a mess, shoots mixed up and around each other, and yes I regretted letting them get so intertwined. But I was a newbie. It was my first time growing melons. Plus, you learn from your mistakes, and boy did I learn!!
Do It Yourself PVC Trellis
It wasn't until it was too late that I began to find ways to separate the watermelon shoots from the cantaloupe shoots, but by then my battle with a newly discovered pest, the squash bug, had already begun taking its toll on my poor melon plants. But before I get into the melons biggest enemy, take my advice if you grow melons. Once you see shoots send them up a trellis, do not let them intertwine, because once you do it’s a mess trying to separate them without doing any damage. Oh, and just in case you're wondering what to use for a trellis, I’ll show you the most inexpensive way, using PVC pipes.
In the image above you can see my PVC trellis. I took this recently, so my newly transplanted cantaloupe and watermelons are still quite small. Oh and my dog Charlie decided he had to be in the picture lol. Anyway, I built my PVC trellis last year once the shoots began to get so long that I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was what.
I went to Lowe’s, and purchased one inch in diameter PVC. I bought five 6 foot long PVC to use for the legs, used some rebar I had leftover from another project, put the rebar in the ground leaving a few inches to put the PVC pipes over. That way the trellis won’t blow over. Which worked quite well. It’s been there since last summer, and it hasn’t fallen yet. I then used 2 foot long PVC on the top, eight pieces total, and connected them using coupling fittings in the middle, which you can see in the image below.
The reason I didn't just use 4 foot long PVC pipes here is because I wanted to make sure I could add extra legs for extra stability, something I may do this year in case I get large melons. I also used 90 degree outlet elbows for each corner, as you can see in the first image below, 90 degree outlet tees to connect to the middle bar, which you can see in the second image, and a 90 degree tee in the center for the leg in the middle of the trellis, which you can see in the third image.
I then placed small metal trellises in the center of my melon patch, similar to the ones in the first image of my PVC trellis, to attach the shoots to when they are smaller, and to keep them off the ground. Once they were long enough to attach to my PVC trellis I used gardening rope to tie each shoot to the trellis, wrapping them in different directions as needed, but trying to keep them separate. It’s easier to not only self fertilize the flowers when each shoot is separate, but it’s also easier to keep an eye out for pests when each shoot isn’t intertwined with another.
Major Pests Identified & How To Deal With Them
Now about the melon’s worst enemy. If your not new to gardening then you know of one pest, the aphid, which is harmful to various vegetables and fruits. I mostly find a white aphid that looks like it has little white hairs, like this one below.
But last year I discovered another pest that I have come to loathe more than the aphid, the squash bug. These guys are such a pain! Every morning I would go out to check on my melons and find groups of them in different areas of my plants. I would spray hot pepper spray on them, it would burn them, kill them, and later that day they would be back in large groups once again.
The worst part about these pests in particular is that their saliva that is left behind on the leaves can cause disease. My watermelon plants suffered the most. Their leaves slowly turned black and after a while I lost every watermelon plant I had. My cantaloupes weren’t affected as bad, but my watermelons, oh my poor watermelons. Can you tell I really hate squash bugs?
Look out for these pests. They are a dark orange color, with six long black legs. There are many other varieties and colors of these little pains, but this guy in the image below is what I get. Plus, they get bigger, and grow wings. So I try to kill them the best I can while they are small.
Beware of these pests! While the hot pepper spray will burn them and kill them it won’t keep new guys from coming. I did find a new recipe for another spray, but what I don’t like about it is that it has to be kept in the fridge because two of the ingredients are peppers and onions, so refrigerating this mixture will keep it from going off. But since another ingredient is soap, it thickens up a bit in the fridge. So I have to warm it up before I can put it in a spray bottle and use it or it will just clog up the spray bottle. But I've made up a batch and am going to give it a try, see how it works, and if it does work I’ll share this new pest spray recipe in a blog post.
Hot Pepper Spray
The hot pepper spray does kill them, but it doesn’t keep them away for good, you have to be proactive and check on your plants daily. For this option I use hot sauce, and the hotter the better. For a really cheap option, if you have a Joe V's Smart Shop near you, they have a 32 ounce bottle for $1.33. You also need a spray bottle, I prefer to use a 32 ounce, which you can get at Walmart for around $2.97 each. Fill the spray bottle with water, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of hot sauce, shake the bottle to mix the hot sauce with the water, label it, and go spray those pests!
Another option is garlic water. It does smell quite strong, so don't accidentally spray yourself with it lol, but it does work. You need a bottle with a lid, I used an old 1 quart vinegar bottle, and some fresh garlic, not the jared stuff, the actual garlic that you have to peel yourself. Peel away a few cloves, try to get as much of the garlic peel off as you can, put a few cloves in the bottle, maybe 6-8 depending on how strong you want the water to be, then fill the bottle up with water and let it sit for a few days. Just set it to the back of your counter. After about 3 days pour the water, without the garlic cloves, into a spray bottle. I recommend doing this outside because the smell is quite strong, and it can linger if you pour the water into the spray bottle inside. After you've filled the spray bottle with the garlic water, label it, store in a cool dark place, but handy enough to get to when you start to see those pests on your plants.
Give both sprays a try and see which works best for you, but those are two of my DIY options, which are within budget, and don’t cost a lot. There are other organic options I've found in the gardening center at Walmart, but one of those options, which is an insect killing soap for around $10 for a small bottle, can get costly. Even though that small bottle can make quite a few batches because you dilute it with water, if you get a lot of pests and use it daily, you'll end up spending more money than you'd like just to keep the pests away, and you also have to be proactive and spray your plants regularly. Take your pick, but I recommend the DIY options compared to the more expensive options.
Using Essential Oils To Kill Pests
Another option that is supposed to kill pests, I say supposed to because I haven't tried it yet, but I do plan on giving it a try. You can safely spray it on your plants to help deter and kill those nasty little buggers, by mixing liquid Castile soap with orange essential oil and cedarwood essential oil. The two essential oils mixed together will kill pretty much all pests, and the Castile soap, which is a natural soap, will stick to the plant leaves, and the bugs, so the essential oils can do their thing. Also, on the plus side, if you have an issue with roaches, this mixture will kill them as well so you don’t have to keep using more poisonous options such as Raid.
To make this mixture you use ¼ cup of Castile soap, such as lavender, peppermint, citrus, tea tree, or eucalyptus and pour it into a spray bottle. I found some inexpensive Castile soap at Walmart made by Equate. It's a 16 fl. oz. bottle, so you'll get a few uses out of that one bottle. This is pure Castile soap, and only costs $7.48. Compared to other more expensive options, this is a great deal. After you've added the Castile soap to your spray bottle you then add 1 teaspoon of each of the essential oils. I found good deals on essential oils on Amazon, orange essential oil, and cedarwood essential oil for pretty cheap, and not in those under 1 ounce bottles either. If you'd like to save some money and be able to make a lot of batches of this spray at half the cost I recommend you click those links. Plus if you have an Amazon Prime account you get free two day shipping.
Now all you have to do is fill the bottle with filtered water to the 32 ounce marker. Shake up the bottle to mix, and there you go! Label it, store the bottle in a cool, dark cabinet when not in use. Most of my bottles are under my kitchen sink. Then when you begin to see pests in your garden, spray those suckers!
If you've tried any of the Do It Yourself ideas mentioned in this article, or have any other ideas you'd like to share, let me know in the comments below.