Growing Melons

The term is commonly used and includes the fruit of 2 distinct genera of the family Cucurbitaceae, Cucumis melo, the Muskmelon, Honey Dew, Casaba and related varieties; and Citrullus vulgaris, the Watermelon and Citron.

Cucumis melo is a warm, temperate annual with trailing, soft, hairy vines. The fruit varies greatly in many of the cultivated forms or botanical varieties. It is native to Persia and Central Asia. Var. reticulatus; netted melons with fruit having a netted skin, shallow sutures and ribs, and flesh varying from light green to reddish orange, with a musky odor. Var. cantalupensis, European Cantaloupe, are fruits that have hard rinds; are rough, warty and scaly. They are not grown in North America, but many varieties of what are universally but incorrectly called cantaloupes are grown here, and conforming to this usage they will hereafter be called cantaloupes. Var. inodorus, winter melons are fruits that lack musky odor, ripen late, keep well; skin smooth, corrugated ridged; flesh white, light green or orange. Var. flexuosus, Snake Melon, are long, slender, crooked, non-netted fruits. The inedible Var. chito, Mango Melon, is orange to purplish pink, wine peach, the size and shape of an orange, yellow or greenish; flesh white, not fragrant, cucumber like. They are used in preserves and pickles. Var. dudaim, Pomegranate Melon is a fruit that is small, round, very fragrant, and inedible. They are used for ornamental purposes.

The history of the Melon dates back many centuries. In the U.S. this vegetable was of limited importance until very late in the 19th century. It now ranks as one of the major crops with Calif., Ariz., Tex., Colo., Ga., N. & S. Car., Mich. and Ind. as the most important states in its commercial production.

All netted melons are listed as either musk-melons or cantaloupes (which as noted above in classification is a misnomer). In general musk-melons include the larger-fruited sorts that have thin rinds, ripen rapidly at maturity and are not adapted to shipping. Cantaloupes include the smaller-fruited varieties with tough, hard rinds, ripen slowly and are adapted to shipping.

Melon Varieties

Seed companies list many varieties and strains of muskmelons, cantaloupes and winter melons which vary in days to maturity, color of flesh, resistance to disease and climatic adaptability. It is therefore only possible to list a few of the more common and popular varieties; cantaloupe; ‘Hales Best’ type; muskmelons, ‘Hearts of Gold’, ‘Pride of Wisconsin’, ‘Seneca Bender’, `Delicious’ and ‘Iroquois’; winter melons, ‘Honey Dew’, ‘Casaba’, ‘Crenshaw’, and ‘Persian’.

The home gardener should check several seed catalogues for descriptions and information of varieties adapted to a given region.

Melons thrive best and develop the highest quality in a hot dry climate. The plants are very sensitive to low temperatures, and in humid regions foliage diseases are especially serious.

Melon Culture

Melons thrive best in a sandy loam soil that is well drained and is not too acid or tests a pH of 6.2-6.8. Thorough soil preparation prior to planting is important. Fertilizer requirements are similar to those for cucumbers. Well-rotted manure or compost is beneficial as a source of plant food and to improve the water-holding capacity of the soil. The application can be broadcast or, if only a limited supply is available, a good forkful can be placed under each hill. A complete fertilizer 5-10-10 should be broadcast prior to planting followed by several top dressings of nitrate of soda after the plants start to grow rapidly.

Muskmelon seed will not germinate in cold wet soil. In the warmer regions, south and south-west, planting out-of-doors is practical. In northern regions the home gardener probably should start the plants in hotbeds or green-houses. The seeds are planted in 3-4 in. plant bands, pots or berry baskets, approximately 4-5 weeks prior to the time for outdoor planting. In resetting these plants in the open it is very important that the soil is not disturbed around the roots. If the soil warms up early, time maybe gained in planting the seed out-of-doors by covering each hill with a plant protector such as the hot kaps until the danger of frost has past. In the use of plant protectors care must be taken to prevent plant damage during hot days. After the plants are well started the hot kap should be slit on one side to provide ventilation and then, as soon as all danger of frost is past and the plants begin to grow the protectors should be removed.

Planting in hills is preferred in the home garden with a spacing of 4 ft. x 4 ft. between hills. Cultivation should be shallow and sufficient to control weeds.

Melon Harvesting

Quality of melons depends on texture, flavor and sweetness. This condition is only attained if the fruit is left on the vine until fully mature. With cantaloupes and muskmelons, as ripening advances a crack develops around the peduncle at the base of the fruit and when fully ripe the fruit slips easily from the stem. This is known as the “full slip” condition. During ripening the flesh softens, sugars increase and starch decreases up to the time of the “full slip” condition, after which the reaction is more or less reversed resulting in a soft, musky flavor.

Melons grown for shipment are harvested before fully mature and if placed under refrigeration, 50 degrees F. Cantaloupe will remain in good condition for 1-2 weeks, honey dew 3-4 weeks and casabas and persian for 4-8 weeks.

Melon Insect Pests

Green melon worms with two white stripes and green pickle worms with rows of black spots are injurious to melons in the South. Use sprays or dusts of insecticide #15 or #8.