Read CHAPTER IX - ON THE GROWTH OF MELONS of Theory and Practice‚ Applied to the Cultivation of the Cucumber, free online book, by Thomas Moore, on

It is barely possible to suppose any use to which a structure which during the winter season had been devoted to the growth of Cucumbers, could be so legitimately appropriated in the summer, as that of the growth of the finer Melons of Persia, Cashmere, and the East. The superiority of such as these, in every point of view, over those kinds, which have been long in cultivation, would be an ample recompense for the appropriation of such valuable space to their use; whilst in no other structure could the peculiarities of the treatment they require, be so fully complied with, and be rendered so completely under control, as in that under consideration.

There are some peculiarities in the treatment of these Melons, to the consideration of which, it may be desirable to devote a brief space; the most important of these, are the composition of the soil, the application of moisture at the root, the regulation of atmospheric warmth, and also, of atmospheric moisture; in these particulars, they offer some differences to what has been previously stated, with reference to the Cucumber.

The soil in which the Melon delights to grow, is one of a more compact texture than is usually regarded as applicable for the Cucumber: a suitable compost consists of the “top spit” from a loamy pasture, of a texture rather adhesive, and retaining the herbage and roots of the grass; this should be collected a few months before it is used, so that these vegetable substances may be in a decaying state, and it should be broken roughly to pieces, but by no means sifted; to it, should be added, about one-fourth part of vegetable mould: the whole should be well incorporated, and, before using, should be placed in a situation where it may not be liable to become saturated by heavy rain; which would serve to destroy the free and open texture, which it is so desirable to retain.

In the application of moisture to the soil, the structure which is described in a previous chapter, will be found to present facilities, which peculiarly adapt it for the growth of these plants. In Persia, and the neighbouring countries, where the Melon is so successfully grown, the ground is irrigated by means of numerous channels, which, from the limitation of their exposed surface, are not peculiarly adapted to supply atmospheric moisture; but are yet sufficiently numerous to secure the perfect irrigation of the soil, within the reach of the roots. The tubes or shafts, represented at (n) in the sketch referred to above, are intended to communicate directly with a layer of coarse open material, extending entirely over the top of the tank, and beneath the soil; by means of these a supply of water should be poured beneath the soil, which will thus keep that portion immediately about the young roots, in a constant and complete state of saturation, by means of the steam which will arise, in consequence of the heat from the tank. A uniformly warm, and a thoroughly moist soil, will be thus easily secured, which are two important points in the growth of Persian Melons. It must be recollected that these conditions for supplying moisture, are recommended only during the time of growing the plants, and swelling the fruit; but as these latter approach their maturity, the degree of moisture must of course be gradually diminished.

In connection with this moistened and genial soil, the Melon has naturally the advantage also, of powerful sun heat, and intense light; and these are two conditions which it is indispensable should be supplied in artificial cultivation, as fully as they can possibly be obtained. It is by means of the moisture of the soil, that the plants are enabled to grow on rapidly and vigorously, because that moisture renders the food contained in the soil, soluble, and therefore available to the roots; but the elaboration and assimilation of this food depends on the degree of light and heat with which they are supplied: without these conditions, to convert the crude sap, by their united agency, into organic compounds, such as lignin, gum, starch, and sugar, and to induce their deposition, the fruit will indeed be formed it will grow, and perhaps may even tempt the eye; but unless these chemical and vital changes have taken place in its constituent parts, the eye, as it frequently happens, will have been deceived; and instead of the palate being gratified by a mature and luscious fruit, it will find nothing but a tasteless mass of pulp. The plants, therefore, cannot, in our latitude, receive too intense a degree of solar heat, or of light.

The same cause which renders the natural atmosphere of the Melon countries elevated in temperature, renders it also comparatively dry; the sun drinks up the moisture which is deposited near the surface, or which may rise to that position; and by an exceedingly powerful influence effectually prevents the accumulation of moisture about the exposed parts of the plants. The atmosphere is nevertheless not in an arid state; the evaporation from a well-moistened soil effectually prevents this from being the case, but the excessive heat also as effectually and continually prevents an undue accumulation of moisture in the atmosphere. The application of this fact, to artificial practice, is plain; a less amount of moisture artificially applied, in comparison with the temperature, must be permitted, than when the cultivation of those plants is attempted whose natural habitats are less strongly featured in this respect.

Such considerations as these naturally force on us the conclusion, that it is vain to attempt the cultivation of this noble fruit, except during that portion of the year when the sun exerts his greatest power in our latitude. It is not because they cannot be induced to grow at any other period of the year, for the mere extension of vegetable tissue will go on, though the influence of the natural agents is but limited and feeble; but it is because maturity, perfect development, and, above all, the full assimilation of the sap, cannot take place sufficiently to ensure a good flavour in the fruit, except light and heat are not only unimpeded and constant, but powerful and united in their action.