I discovered this beautiful trellis in one of Baltimore City’s postage-stamp sized front yards. While the melons growing up it might look like mutant cucumbers to many western gardeners, anyone familiar with Asian cuisine will recognize this delicacy as winter melon (Benincasa hispida), aka ash gourd.
At maturity, winter melons develop a fine, white, waxy coating that helps protect the plant from disease during winter storage. The harvested fruit will last for several months when stored at ambient temperatures, making them a great option for gardeners who want to eat homegrown during the winter months.
Winter melons take approximately 90 days to mature. If you live in a more northern climate with a short growing season, start transplants indoors before the soil has warmed up. To increase your crop yield for the year, place a melon trellis over your raised beds under, and grow your favorite short-term crops, such as a lettuce, under the melon plant while they’re maturing.
Your Home and Garden Blog has instructions for how to build a pergola-style trellis like the one pictured. Use netted bags, such as a plastic potato sack or pantyhose, tied to the top of the trellis to support the weight of the giant melons, which can reach weights of up to 20 pounds.
This winter staple is popular in soups, stews, and curries in a number of Asian countries, from the Vietnamese soup canh bi dao, to a coconut-flavored kumbalanga curry in India, to a Chinese pork and barley stew. Winter melon can even be candied—some recipes contain the mineral lime to make the candy crunchy and to neutralize the flavor in addition to boiling the slices in sugar syrup.
About the Author: Aliza Sollins spent five years working in urban agriculture as a co-founder of Boone Street Farm in the beautiful, gritty heart of Baltimore City, teaching canning classes, learning how to raise backyard poultry, and gardening with refugees from Iraq, Bhutan, Sudan, Burma and more. She is now the assistant manager of the Lexington Farmers’ Market in Kentucky.