June 23, 2011

My 1806 Experiment - Greenhouse Melons

Petit Gris de Rennes Melons planted in a mesh bag in the greenhouse. These will have to be thinned to three or four vines per bag. I plan on allowing the vines to wander over the mesh shelving (once the succulent collection is moved outdoors!).
This is about using wasted space (OK, and it's a little about growing tasty garden-fresh melons!). When I was a kid, I used to exhibit vegetables and flowers at the local Horticultural society summer exhibitions, and I can remember an elderly couple who at the time, seemed to grow every dry bean and giant onion variety, winning all of the ribbons. One year they exhibited a large table of melons - all sorts, and watermelons in every color, pink, lime, golden yellow, red, all cut in half with pretty back specs of seeds, presented on white, rectangular exhibition plates. My mouth would water, and I dreamed of someday growing my own rainbow of fruit flavors. Maybe it was my inner Brony coming out, but I never forgot that amazing display of melons. One day at an awards banquet, I told them about how I admired their entries. The woman told me that they grew their melons in an old wooden greenhouse, and that they sowed the seeds after their tomato plants and geraniums were all planted. "the vine grew all over the benches, and they never had to weed!" she said, "they just took care of themselves because the rain would fall in through the broken glass".

I don't know why I have waited so long to try this.

My greenhouse is full many collections of plants, but most are either summer dormant, or they are ornamental potted plants, or trees and shrubs grown in large tubs, that are dragged outdoors for the summer. What I am left with is a greenhouse that is about 80% empty space, every square foot unused. It is hot, dry, and basically, unused until late summer when I start the bulb cycle growing again. So I began thinking....what if I grew something that was a little more practical ( and sustainable) than tender rare orchids or summer-blooming gesneriads that have fuzzy leaves that hate the rain? After all, ten years ago, this entire side of the property was a high-producing vegetable garden, all of which has been reduced down to 6 raised beds. I miss the volumes of fresh vegetables, and the 60 foot rows of beans, ( I don't miss weeding them, however!).

The answer, I think, is to use space wisely, and the greenhouse is a place where I can plant crops that might enjoy the extra summer heat ( it can reach 100 - 110 degrees F. on a typical day without the fans on. So I am going to try melons, bottle gourds and some Japanese cucumbers. A few years ago a squirrel chewed a hole in an old birdhouse gourds that I had storred under a bench for the summer, and the vine grew into a giant with at least 6 large gourds on it, so I think they can handle the heat. I will need to pollinate the flowers since I feel that most of our bees will not make it in through the roof vents, but it's worth trying.

This is not a new idea, for in a rare book that I purchased a month ago about month-by-month gardening which was written in 1806, the author speaks about the many greenhouse melons that he was growing in his glasshouse, which was in Philadelphia. In the 1800's. most greenhouses in America were used for what they called 'Pine Apples', and for table grapes, cucumbers and melons. I was so surprised to have read this, for the greenhouse was still a new invention. Surely, I, in the year 2011 more than 200 years later, should be able to manage this!

I ordered 10 extra large fiber mesh gro bags, a few bales of soiless professional potting mix, and ten packets of heirloom melons. The heirloom varieties include the fancy market melons one sees in the south of France in the summer markets, the striped orange-fleshed Noir de Carmes, and Petit Gris de Rennes, another French variety from the 1800's. A few modern varieties sounded interesting, a mini watermelon with yellow and pinkish flesh named Sorbet Swirl, and some bottle gourds. A few varieties of Galia melons that are popular in Europe and the Middle East, and  a classic Chanterais.


  1. Wow what a great idea! What is the highest temp. that melons can take? I have a greenhouse that I don't us in the summer also! Thanks! -Camille
    p.s I love you blog :)

  2. I'm trying cantaloupe for the first time this year, and since I have a container garden, I've planted them in 5 gallon pots. I've tied them up to a trellis, and I'm hanging the melons in little individual slings. Mine are much farther along than yours, I'm in Memphis. Think that'll work?


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