For me, nothing calls to mind summer better than a fresh slice of honeydew melon.
Growing up, we always had these fruits in the refrigerator once summer rolled around. I love slicing them up and throwing the bits and pieces in salads, soups, and desserts.
Unfortunately, when it comes to growing melons of all kinds, I’ve always been a bit – let’s say – challenged. I have always struggled to provide the right growing conditions for these massive fruits.
I decided to plant, grow, and harvest honeydew – here’s what you should know…
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Why You Should Grow Honeydew
Aside from the most obvious benefit of growing honeydew – it’s delicious! – it’s also incredibly nutrient-dense.
In fact, just one cup of honeydew comes in with just 64 calories and 16 grams of carbohydrates. It has a gram of protein, too, which isn’t anything to write home about – but it doesn’t hurt, either!
One cup (177g) of honeydew also has a whopping 53% of your daily vitamin C requirement. It has ample amounts of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, and potassium too. Plus, it contains compounds with strong antioxidant benefits, including quercetin, beta-carotene, and caffeic acid.
Consuming honeydew on a regular basis is believed to help reduce blood pressure. Plus, it contains nutrients that can improve and support good bone health. It’s rich in water and electrolytes, which is why it’s so perfect on that hot summer day!
Varieties of Honeydew
There are two primary types of honeydew you can grow.
The first type is green-fleshed honeydew. Common varieties of green-fleshed honeydew include ‘Earlibrew,’ ‘Moonshine,’ and ‘Honey King.’ All of these mature in about 90 days. There is another green-fleshed variety, ‘Vanessa, ‘that is prized for its gorgeous white rind.
If you want to grow an orange-fleshed variety, you’ll find popular cultivars like ‘Orange Blossom,’ ‘Orange Sherbet,’ and ‘Orange Delight’ at the top of most gardeners’ lists.
A particularly disease-resistant variety is ‘Coup d’Orange,’ while ‘Orange Dew’ has gorgeous salmon-colored flesh that really sets it apart from the crowd.
Planting Honeydew from Seed
Most gardeners choose to plant honeydew from seed, sowing directly into the garden at planting time.
To do this, you will want to wait until after the danger of frost has passed. Sow your seeds in warm, fertile soil, sowing about three inches apart in groups of four to six. Cover the seeds with an inch of soil and water evenly.
Your groups should be spaced about four to six feet apart.
Seedlings usually emerge in a week or two. You will want to thin back to the three or four strongest seedlings in each group to reduce competition, but wait until the plants are two inches high to do this.
In most cases, you should directly sow your honeydew seeds. This is because the roots of the plant are quite fragile, and are easily disturbed by transplanting.
However, there may be situations when this is not ideal. For example, if you live in a colder growing zone, you may not have enough time to get a mature crop before the first frost sets in. In that case, you can start your honeydew indoors about three weeks before the last expected frost.
The key here is to use biodegradable planting pots, like peat pots. That way, you won’t have to disturb the roots of the plant when it’s time to put the containers in the ground.
When you sow, place about three seeds per pot. Make sure they are pressed half an inch deep in seed-starting formula and keep the soil moist and warm, at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 Celsius).
I always start my seeds indoors under an LED grow light. I position the pots on a heat mat so that they can stay nice and toasty – helping them germinate more quickly.
Usually, your seedlings will emerge in just one to two weeks. While light doesn’t matter quite as much before the seedlings have popped through the soil, it’s essential after they have emerged. You will want to provide light for at least 16 hours a day and 8 hours at night – balance is essential.
You do not need to fertilize the seedlings. Instead, you can’t wait to feed them until they are about four weeks old by using a starter solution. At this time, you should also thin the plants to just one per pot to reduce competition.
Before transplanting seedlings outside, take the time to harden them off. This should be done over a period of one to two weeks. Get your young plants acclimated to the outdoor conditions by gradually moving them outside for increased amounts of time.
Start with just an hour or two, placing your plants in a location that is sheltered from the driving wind and direct light, then bring them in. Add an hour each day.
Once the weather has warmed and the risk of frost has passed – and your seedlings have been adequately hardened off – it’s time to plant! Space your pots about six feet apart so the vines have plenty of room to sprawl.
Growing Honeydew Plants
Honeydew plants like to be watered frequently. A plant will require about two inches of water each week, so it’s essential that you provide supplemental irrigation during the growing season. You might want to use a trickle or drip system that pushes out water at low pressure, ideally right at the soil level.
If you have to use overhead watering systems or techniques, water first thing in the morning. That way, the foliage will have plenty of time to dry off.
Good fertilizing is essential when it comes to growing honeydew melon – too little fertilizer, and your plants may become bitter tasting.
You will want to fertilize just before the runners on the vines reach six inches long. Use about two pounds of fertilizer for every 60 feet of honeydew.
You can use compost tea if you prefer a more natural fertilizer, too. Adding compost to the soil before planting is a great way to improve its fertility prior to getting your seeds in the ground.
If you find that your honeydew plants have plenty of leaves but no flowers, your issue might be that the plant is receiving too much nitrogen.
This has caused it to grow foliage at the expense of fruits. To avoid this, make sure you use a balanced fertilizer that contains equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
On the other hand, if you notice that your plants are flowering but not setting fruit, the issue could be that there are not enough pollinators around.
Honeydew plants have both male and female flowers, with males opening up first. You can hand-pollinate your plants or introduce additional pollinators to your garden.
When your honeydew plants are first getting started in the garden, it’s important that you be vigilant about regular weeding.
Weeds not only compete with plants for nutrients and water, but they also compete for space and sunlight. You can use mulch to help reduce their prevalence or hand pull any weeds that appear.
As your plants get larger, weeding may become less important because the dense vining growth of your honeydew plants will more or less choke out any competition.
However, mulch is still a wonderful idea. Honeydews have shallow root systems, so mulches can keep them cooler and well-watered even during dry spells. Mulches will also reduce weed competition. Just make sure you keep the fruits off the ground so they don’t rot.
There are several plants that grow well with honeydew. It can be grown with basil, broccoli, corn, dill, garlic, and mint, just to name a few.
The only crops you should not grow near honeydew are cantaloupe, cucumbers, and watermelon, all of which attract similar pests and spread similar diseases to each other.
Common Honeydew Pests and Diseases
Honeydew is not prone to very many pests and diseases – but you may have issues with some of the more common culprits that tend to affect garden plants of a similar growth pattern (like cucumbers and squash).
Alternaria leaf spot is one of the most common diseases. This ailment creates round, red-brown spots with a yellow halo on the upper portions of your leaves.
If a leaf is severely infected, it might turn brown, curl, and die. It is most common in wet, warm weather, and can be prevented by watering from the bottom up instead of overhead.
Another common disease is bacterial wilt. Like the Alternaria leaf spot, this disease causes the leaves of a plant to turn brown. However, the stem might also wilt. Your plants are likely to die. This disease is spread by cucumber beetles so, often, getting rid of these pests can do the trick.
Cucumber beetles are spotted pests that are only about ¼ inch in size- yet can be incredibly devastating nonetheless.
These sets start to feed as soon as they hatch, rapidly killing your plants (or, at the very least, slowing their growth). When you find cucumber beetles on your plants, brush them into a container of soapy water to kill them.
Aphids are also frequently seen on honeydew plants. These are usually black, red, or green, spreading disease and a sticky substance (ironically, a substance known as honeydew) as they feed. You can use an isncecitidcal soap or introducebenefical predators like ladybugs to get rid of them.
You will know that your honeydew fruits are ready to be harvested when the skin becomes a creamy yellow color. The blossom end of the fruit will be somewhat soft, too.
To prevent damaging your fruit, cut the honeydew from the vine with a pair of sharp scissors. Don’t twist or pull it, as this can damage the vine.
It’s important to note that honeydew, unlike other similar crops, cannot be ripened any more once the fruits are plucked from the vine. As soon as you pick a honeydew, it is as ripe as it will ever be.
Harvest as frequently as you’d like. Remember, the more often you harvest, the more fruit your plant will produce. At any rate, try to limit fruit to just three per plant – otherwise, it will take the plant too long to ripen the fruit.
How to Preserve Honeydew
You can store your honeydew in the refrigerator for short periods of time. Be careful about doing this for prolonged periods, though, as they’ll lose both their flavor and their color.
There are several ways you can preserve honeydew melon. The first method is to freeze your melon. It will become softer when frozen but can still be used in things like purees. You may also choose to can your honeydew. It can be packed into an unsweetened canned mixture or packed in syrup.
Unless you’re turning your honeydew into a jam, keep in mind that you may need to put it in a pressure canner instead of a water bath to render it safe to eat.
Uses for Honeydew
While most people just eat honeydew fresh from the rind, there are plenty of ways you can prepare it for a more formal dish, too. Some people freeze pureed honeydew and turn it into popsicles, but you could also drink it in a slushy form.
Honeydew tastes great in things like salads, too. It can be added to a green salad or made into a fruit salad. It also is wonderful in a kebab, smoothie, and sorbet, too.
Should You Grow Honeydew?
After researching how to grow honeydew, I realized that my major flaw in my past honeydew growing failures was that my soil was neither warm enough nor was it fertile enough. This year, I’ve rectified the situation by adding plenty of compost to the soil and putting down some black plastic to help keep things warm and cozy.
The seeds are in the ground – we’ll see how it goes!
If you’re new to growing honeydew, don’t be afraid to give it a try. This fruit is delicious and nutritious – and it deserves a place in just about every backyard garden.
Rebekah is a part-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies.