Ask a gardener what you should plant in your vegetable garden, and you might be told to put in what you like to eat. This is great advice if what you like is a good grower in your location.
But experienced gardeners know that local conditions have a lot to do with plant success, and not everything grows where you want them to. You wouldn’t plant a lime tree in the yard here on the Front Range, unless you plan to treat it as an annual.
Our short season, highly alkaline clay soils, and dry climate put the brakes on many goodies others grow elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have options. Savvy gardeners keep track of what is adapted to their region, experiment with new plants every year, and make a list of the tried and true that taste good when grown in their backyard.
If you’re a melon lover like me, I’d like to add three varieties to your list. Each year I try to grow a few types that turn out sweet, juicy and delicious. These turned out best in my garden, but don’t just take my word for the flavor – an informal group of Master Gardeners tasted them and voted them a top choice:
Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon – although not as sugary as some of the red watermelons, this white-fleshed one does well in our short season. The flavor is lightly sweet and citrusy. The only drawback I find is that the rind is thin – so much so that when a buddy knocked her knuckles against it to ‘sound’ the melon, it burst. Handle it gently, and because it isn’t a super-sweet, wait until the tendril nearest the melon dries back to ensure best flavor (see post on how to tell if your watermelon is ripe).
Charentais cantaloupe – a true cantaloupe, unlike the large, netted-skin muskmelons we’re used to, Charentais is smooth and green right up until it ripens. Then the skin turns slightly yellow and the perfume of cantaloupe fills the air. The flavor of this petite, two-person melon is deep, rich, and sweet, guaranteed to make those tasting it for the first time moan in happiness. Watch this melon’s ripening closely – when mature, the blossom end bursts open. An exploding melon is a fun thought, but a disaster if you plan to eat it: ants and millipedes quickly swarm the exposed fruit.
Collective Farm Woman – if you love honeydew but are stymied by how to tell its ripeness, try this relative. Smaller, early to ripen, the hard green rind blushes yellow when ready. The crisp, green flesh is sweet and honey-like, never soft. I couldn’t find any negatives to this melon, once I learned to pick it before it turned fully yellow. Left to ripen fully, the flavor slightly declined; my palate prefers the melon when it’s half to two-thirds yellow.