Hello Mid-Ohio Valley farmers and gardeners! The summer is flying by as we approach the Fourth of July weekend and Independence Day. As we all enjoy the extended weekend with family and friends, take a moment to reflect on what this holiday is all about.
The Fourth of July commemorates the day the United States gained independence from Great Britain in 1776. The Continental Congress drafted the Declaration of Independence, declaring the colonies newfound independence to the public, which was approved on July 4th in Philadelphia.
There were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, the document that announced the separation of the 13 North American British colonies from Great Britain. So fire up the grill and enjoy the fireworks and parades in honor of the red, white and blue.
This week I want to discuss growing cantaloupe and honeydew melons. These are always a popular and nutritious summer snack, so why not grow some in the garden? A one-cup serving of cantaloupe has 53 calories, but is a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C. It is s also a good source of potassium and folate. Honeydew has 60 calories with plenty of vitamin C, potassium, fiber, folate and vitamin B6.
Cantaloupe and honeydew melons are members of the cucurbit (Cucurbitaceae) family, which also includes several other warm season favorites such as watermelon, squash and cucumber. Cantaloupes and honeydew grow as prostrate vines with andromonecious flowering. This means they have both perfect (male and female) and imperfect (male) flowers.
The first flowers to appear on the vines are male. The female flowers, which open later, have a swelling at the base that forms the fruit. After bees pollinate these female flowers, the fruit develops.
What we call cantaloupe (Cucumis melo) here in the U.S. is actually muskmelon. “Cantaloupe” has become the generic name of all netted, musk-scented melons. No true cantaloupes are grown commercially in the United States. True cantaloupes are a rough, warty fruit primarily grown in Europe.
The honeydew melon is another group of melons. Honeydew melons usually have green or white flesh, although some newer varieties may have orange or pink flesh.
Cantaloupe and honeydew are warm-season crops, so they thrive in the summer heat as long as they receive enough moisture. It is best to plant when the soil temperature is at least 60 to 65 degrees. These melons are very tender and should be planted after the last chance of frost.
During the ripening period the best quality melons are produced when hot, dry conditions prevail. In the Mid-Ohio Valley summer conditions, choosing a site with adequate soil drainage as well as good air circulation can help to ensure the desired fruit quality. Keeping plenty of space between plants is important so leaf surfaces can dry to control foliar diseases
There are numerous great cantaloupe varieties for the backyard gardener. “Athena” is one of the most popular commercial varieties which also grows well in the home garden. Additional recommended cantaloupe varieties include: “Ambrosia,” “Burpee Hybrid,” “Lilliput Hybrid,” “Park’s Whopper” and “Scoop I”. The recommended honeydew variety is “Earlidew.”
Melons do require a long growing season. Many varieties require a large space but cantaloupe is suitable for a small garden if compact varieties are grown. Cantaloupes and honeydew melons grown on black plastic mulch or black landscape fabric will produce larger and earlier harvests. If possible, run a soaker hose or drip irrigation line under the plastic or fabric.
Cantaloupe and honeydew can be seeded directly or transplanted into the garden. It is ideal to plant on raised beds made by adding large amounts of soil amendments so that a bed is established above the previous level of soil.
If seeding, plant more seeds than necessary to make up for any losses. Plant seeds in rows 4 to 6 feet apart depending on which crop you are planting. Push them into the soil 1 to 1.5 inch deep. Fill these holes by scratching the surface, firm the soil lightly, and cover with a thin mulch of organic material in order to hold soil moisture. Keep moist during the germination period. When the plants are about 3 inches high, thin plants.
In smaller gardens, lifting and moving vines so they grow in one or two directions saves space and keeps your garden orderly. Poor melon set is common during rainy weather when bees are inactive. Growing plants on a trellis allows closer spacing but each trellised melon must be supported by a sling made of a material that dries quickly to prevent rot. You can also place cardboard or straw under developing fruits to prevent rot.
Although vigorous melon vines can shade out weeds it’s critical to control weeds early. A thick organic mulch will limit weed growth and help protect fruits from rot diseases. Keep plants well-watered during establishment and fruit expansion. Unless a prolonged dry spell strikes, stop watering when the fruits begin to ripen. This will improve flavor and reduce the risk of fruit splitting.
Fertile soils usually grow a fine crop of melons with normal maintenance fertilizer application plus one side-dress application of nitrogen fertilizer when the plants begin to vine. Melons benefit from the incorporation of well-rotted manure before planting.
Melons can suffer from extremes in soil moisture including too much rain or an extended drought. Irrigation is recommended in case of drought, especially when the vines are growing and the fruits are developing.
Growing cantaloupes and honeydew melons is not trouble free. Yield reduction or poorly formed fruit or fruit can be an issue, due to poor pollination by bees. Blossom end can result due to inadequate calcium in the plant. This may be due to low soil pH, low calcium in the soil, and irregular uptake of water.
Applying too much nitrogen fertilizer or planting too close can cause the plant to produce a lot of vine growth and very little fruit. Insect problems are usually critical only in the seedling or early growth stage. Cucumber beetles and aphids are the most noticeable problem insects.
All melons will rot if left on the ground too long so be prepared. Once harvest begins, melon patch should be checked daily. Good eating quality depends upon the texture of the melons and the development of sugars from proper ripening on the vines.
When are cantaloupes ripe, the rind changes from green to tan or yellow between the netting. They are at peak for flavor when harvested at “full slip,” which is when the stem separates easily at the point of attachment. Cantaloupe continues to ripen after harvest, unlike watermelon. Handle fruits gently.
Honeydew melons are cut off the vine after they turn completely yellow. Their stems do not “slip” at maturity. These melons continue to improve by become soft and mellow if kept at room temperature for a few days.
Sometimes melons lack that good, sweet flavor. This may be due to poor soil fertility (especially low potassium), cool temperatures, wet or cloudy weather, a poorly adapted variety, disease, or picking the melons before they are ripe.
Looking for more information? Check out our WVU Extension Gardening page at extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/gardening. Contact me at the Wood County WVU Extension office at (304)-424-1960 or at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions. Until next time, Good Luck and Happy Gardening!