Courtesy Territorial Seed Company
Melons don’t mind their manners—at least as far as their growth habits are concerned. A single, rambling vine of a standard melon variety can cover up to 100 square feet of garden space, and most urban farmers don’t have that kind of room to spare. It’s sad to think that delicious and nutritious homegrown melons are taken off the menu because of space restrictions.
This is especially true knowing that it doesn’t have to be this way. Miniature melon varieties are the perfect partners for city landscapes, taking up little room yet producing much like their full-size brethren.
Two Ways to Grow
Melons can be termed “minis” if their fruits are small—usually less than 2 pounds each. These mini melons produce vines that are as rowdy as standard-sized cultivars, taking up lots of garden space, but the fruit they produce is single-serving size.
“What makes these types of miniature melons a good fit for urban gardeners is the fact that their lightweight fruit doesn’t need to be supported when the plants are grown vertically,” says Niki Jabbour, author of The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener (Storey Publishing, 2011). “Gardeners with trellises, arbors, fences, tepees or other garden structures can easily grow these mini melons upward instead of outward.”
Vertical vines fill a far smaller garden footprint than vines left to ramble, and the developing fruits are kept up off the ground and away from pests and rot.
The second way mini melons are classified is by their growth habit. Bush-type melons are excellent choices for gardeners with limited space. These plants are far smaller in stature, taking up only a few square feet apiece, but in most cases, the fruit is standard size. The compact vines aren’t as prolific as full-sized vines, but production is still good. In most cases, each vine will produce three or more fruits.
Now let’s stop talking. Here are 10 mini melons you can start growing right away!
This beautiful little melon is one of the first to mature each season. With only 65 days to maturity, this Charentais-type averages just 5 inches in diameter. Its smooth skin ripens to a yellowish tan and is accentuated with dark green, shallow ribbing. The salmon-orange flesh is sweet as can be.
Production on Alvaro is an added bonus; each plant sets about a half-dozen fruits. Charentais melons do not slip from the vine when ripe; instead, look for yellowing skin and small cracks on the blossom end of the fruits. You can also smell when Alvaro is ready to be cut from the vine; the ripe, delectable fragrance is unforgettable.
2. Early Silver Line
This Korean introduction matures in 75 days. The oval-shaped, smooth, yellow-skinned fruit is highlighted with silver striping, and each small melon weighs between 1 and 2 pounds. The white flesh is very crisp and sugary, and with a name like Early Silver Line, you know it will be one of the first melons to produce fruits—even in northern climates.
A mini melon with terrific sweetness, each 1- to 2-pound green fruit turns golden yellow when ripe. An Asian variety, Kazakh’s fruits are perfectly round orbs, and the vines are drought-resistant, early producers. Vines reach maturity in about 75 days and work beautifully on a trellis or fence.
These are fast becoming popular finds at farmers markets, and rightfully so. These Japanese melons are the subject of several university-based breeding programs because of their high production value, marketability and sweet flavor.
Each melon weighs only a pound or so and measures a mere 4 inches across. Their flesh is crisp, like an apple, with a soft, creamy coloration. The smooth, white skin of Sprite melons develops a slight tinge of yellow when the fruits are ripe, and they slip easily from the vine when harvest time arrives. Sprite is an excellent choice because each vine produces many fruits, and the plants take only 79 days to reach maturity.
This is the miniature melon to grow if you are looking for something a bit different. They take longer to reach maturity—90 days—but their unique appearance and delicious flavor are worth the wait. This is not a good choice if you live where the growing season is short, and the fruits are definitely sweeter when the vines are grown in dry conditions, but if you live in a warm place, Tigger is the melon to try.
The flesh is white, and the smooth skin is mottled with red and orange—a striking melon indeed! Each fruit weighs a little more than a pound, and the vines are very prolific.
6. Golden Jenny
This bush-type melon is a yellow-fleshed, short-statured variant of the classic, green-fleshed heirloom Jenny Lind variety. Both selections are unique for the knob, or turban, at the blossom end of each fruit. A Golden Jenny’s golden flesh is super sweet, and its netted green skin turns yellow when the fruits are ripe.
Mature fruits also slip easily from the vine. An early, productive variety that matures in about 75 days, Golden Jenny’s short, bushy vines don’t take up much room, but they produce quite prolifically.
7. Green Machine
This miniature melon matures in 85 days and is absolutely incredible—not only in flavor and appearance but also in number. The compact vines produce mass quantities of 2-pound melons, each with lovely green flesh that tastes divine. The skin is netted, and fruits fall from the vine when ripe.
8. Honey Bun
This bush variety is not only compact in stature, but it also bears the cutest little fruits. Measuring just 5 inches across, each honey-flavored fruit has deep orange flesh and a classic, netted cantaloupe skin. Each vine produces three or four fruits in about 75 days that fall from the vine when ripe.
9. Minnesota Midget (bush type)
Marie Iannotti, author of A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables (Timber Press, 2012), loves Minnesota Midget for its fast maturation—it reaches maturity in a mere 70 days—and its sugary-sweet flesh. The very small, very compact plants reach only 3 to 4 feet across yet still produce numerous fruits, up to six per plant!
The orange-fleshed fruits are small, measuring only 4 inches across, making this variety an exceptional choice for container growing, too. “Because it matures so quickly, Minnesota Midget is great for northern areas with shorter growing seasons,” Iannotti says. The skin is netted and green but pales when the fruits are ripe.
10. Sleeping Beauty
This variety was introduced in the late 1990s and is best-known for its compact vine and delicious, yellow-orange-fleshed fruits. Ripe fruits reach only a half-pound in weight, and the netted skin has deep ribbing and turns a pale yellow when ripe. Plants reach maturity in 85 days.
Miniature melons are the perfect fit for smaller gardens, and the flavor of a homegrown melon is an experience not to be forgotten. I consider them “garden candy” because, once you have them, you just can’t get enough.
Get more small-space gardening tips:
- 14 Container Plants for Your Container Garden
- 5 Small-Space Irrigation Options
- 7 Great Plants for Your Micro-Garden
- 9 Tips for Growing Container Trees
About the Author: Horticulturist Jessica Walliser is the author of Good Bug Bad Bug: Who’s who, what they do, and how to manage them organically (St. Lynn’s Press, 2011). She gardens in Pittsburgh, Pa., where she also co-hosts the weekly program “The Organic Gardeners” on KDKA radio. Learn more about at www.jessicawalliser.com.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Urban Farm.