Growing Melons Vertically

In general, we started our garden this spring not knowing what the heck we were doing. There was a good stretch of my childhood (early elementary – middle school maybe?) where our family had a good sized little garden. I remember summers full of fresh, delicious green beans (My mom will always be the only person that makes green beans perfectly on the stove, I’ll fight you over it), corn, and okra. We never had much luck with tomatoes, but my grandfather always shared his. We also spend hours upon hours shucking corn, picking beans, breaking beans…I learned to love these chores (I remember getting real bored of picking beans though) and now they’re basically my therapy. So I was ready to go when it came to most of the vegetables we planted. As a side note, I think tomato success skips a generation because we’re still in shock at how much our tomato vines produced. We trellised them as well, but that’s a topic for another day. 

What we did not ever grow, however, was watermelons. I’ll basically enjoy any fruit you put in front of me, so I was all for growing some melons. We decided on 6 mounds of melon plants and a couple mounds of cantaloupe. 

In case you didn’t know this, 6 mounds of melon plants is A LOT OF MELONS. Like a tree service is coming to chip some branches from a fungus-ridden Juniper tree and asked that their payment include a watermelon. 

He saw those vines and thought, “I have a chance.”

Anyway, we planted all these seeds and then had 8 mounds of melon plants growing like mad within a couple months. If you know us, you know that we’re obsessed with Disney (PIXIE DUSTED Farmhouse…). We love Living with the Land in EPCOT, and Joel wanted to do some vertical gardening similar to what is done in their greenhouse. We’d talked about how next spring we would grow our melons vertically and he was already doing his research in preparation. 

Then one day we walked outside and really looked at our melon patch. It was attempting to overtake the entire right side of the yard. The tilled patch itself was covered in vines and finding the little baby melons growing was the equivalent of an Easter egg hunt. Something had to change, because if we left it this way the trees to the right and the main garden to the left would soon have a layer of melon vine over it. So VERY late in the game we decided to add a trellis. 

Let me reiterate how late in the game we were…there was a melon on the vine that was probably 10lbs at this point. 

This was fun to untangle and then hoist up on the panel. She ended up weighing in at 22lbs when we picked her.

So Joel did the research and landed on using cattle panels supported by T-posts. We drove our posts in on either side and added one in the middle for extra support per Caedon’s suggestion. He has good ideas sometimes ;). I don’t think using anything less supportive than fencing that thick would be a good idea, watermelons can grow to be quite heavy. Multiply that by how many plants you’ve got and that could equal a lot of weight on your trellis. It needs to be fencing strong enough to hold a lot of fruits maturing at the same time.

This year we’ve got 2 panels stacked on top of each other, but we’re already making plans to amend the current setup. Watermelon vines do not trellis naturally, so they won’t climb the panels. You have to weave the vines as they grow, which was GREAT fun when the vines are mature and like 6ft long. I think 1 ½ panels is a reasonable height to avoid having to stand on a ladder to weave vines…or pick melons! They really don’t grow past that anyway from what I’m seeing. 

I wish we’d been able to trellis our cantaloupe as well, but the way the mounds were arranged didn’t allow for that. We did, however, see the reasons why trellised melons do better than those left on the ground. We’ve already had to donate a couple cantaloupes to the chickens because they’re cracking open prematurely due to sitting on moist soil.

Another interesting fact is that melons will split open if they receive a lot of rain at one time because the fruit grows faster than its skin. 

Trellised vines also help the plant avoid disease. Too much moisture can cause so many problems in the plant world. Having vines growing off the ground allows them to get plenty of airflow and much less possibility for bacteria and viruses to enter the plant from the dirt. 

It’s pretty amazing how well the melons are held by their vine despite gravity. We don’t test the vine’s strength, though, because we don’t want to damage our plants. As the fruits develop, we add a little hammock for them using some leftover bird netting from our berry bushes. We tie each end to the wire of the cattle panels and it keeps the melons secure as they grow. Our 22 pounder had no problems hanging by the netting until we picked it.

If you plan on growing melons from year to year, I would absolutely suggest trellising. Vertically grown melons take up much less space since they aren’t growing out with intent of world domination. Keeping the vines and fruit off the ground makes them healthier, because the plant and fruits are not as prone to rot and disease due to excess moisture. You also save yourself effort in the long run because finding your ripe melons isn’t an Easter egg hunt anymore! I will say, though, that those melons can still sneak up on you. We’ll walk out and find a big ole fruit needing to be hammocked that we hadn’t seen for weeks.

My arms were shaking…

And to address our 22lb melon, it tasted delicious. It was a Clay County yellow meat watermelon, which was a brand new variety to me – did you know watermelon with yellow insides existed?! We also didn’t mark which seeds went into which mounds, so every melon is a surprise around here: yellow or red? If you’re wondering how they compare, the yellow ones seem to have a milder flavor, but still just as sweet and delicious!

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