Cantaloupes refer to two varieties of muskmelon that belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. It is believed that, the fruit is named after the Italian papal village of Cantalupo, where it was first cultivated in 1700 A.D. There are two basic types of cantaloupes - the European cantaloupe and the North American cantaloupe. The former has a grayish-green skin and is lightly ribbed; whereas the other type has a net-like skin, which is light brown in color. It is said that, the North American cantaloupe was brought to the United States by Christopher Columbus, after his second voyage in 1494. This variety is also known as rock melon in some parts of the world.
How to Grow Cantaloupes
Cantaloupes require more space for the vines to spread. These plants need plenty of sunlight too. If you have a limited space, then the best option is the bush cantaloupe, which has compact vines. Given below are some tips for growing cantaloupes in your home garden.
- Sunlight and heat are necessary for the growth of cantaloupes. Hence, they should be planted during frost-free season, when the humidity level is low. The ideal climate to start planting is spring, when the soil turns warm, and reaches a temperature of 70°F.
- Three weeks before planting, the soil should be turned well. The remains of the previously planted crop have to be buried, as three weeks are sufficient for decomposition.
- The common practice is to sow the seeds on raised mounds. Four to six seeds can be planted on each mound, and there should be a gap of more than four feet between individual mounds. The seeds should be placed half to one inch deep inside the soil.
- When the third set of leaves appear, the plants should be thinned to three healthy ones per mound. If you are opting for the compact bush type, the plant density can be higher.
- Remove the weeds and hoe lightly. Don't disturb the shallow root system of the plant, while hoeing.
- Use mulch (compost and other decomposable material, like hay, shredded newspaper, sawdust, etc.) to cover the soil near the plants. This helps in retaining moisture and warmth of the soil. Mulching is good for the health and fast growth of plants.
- Irrigation is mandatory before and after planting the seeds. Irrigation before planting ensures germination of seeds; and after germination, it ensures good growth of plants. Drip irrigation is more beneficial as it reduces the risk of diseases that affect the leaves and fruits. This type of irrigation does not interrupt insects, who are responsible for pollination and fertilization. It also ensures uniform dispersal of water in small amounts.
- Some people prefer transplants, as they mature early and produce fruits well ahead of others. The seeds must be planted three weeks before the transplanting date, and the transplant containers should have a diameter of 2 to 4 inches. A starter solution of 20-20-20 can be applied. Medium-textured soil or loam are preferred, as they are good for production of better quality fruits. The soil must have a good drainage and a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0.
- Pruning is done to curtail unnecessary growths and undesirable cantaloupes, and to increase the fruit weight. It is needed, only if you are using a trellis to grow cantaloupes. Pruning can be done by retaining the primary stem and the secondary stems above the seventh node. This method helps in easy trellising of the plant.
- Generally, it takes around 75 to 95 days (depending on the variety) for the fruits to mature. On ripening, the stem of the fruit becomes dry, and its end becomes soft. Don't allow the fruit to overripe. In such cases, the whole fruit will turn soft. Cantaloupes can be harvested just before they ripen.
- The most common insects, which are attracted to this plant are cucumber beetle and the squash vine borer. You can repel them by applying insecticides. You should also protect your plant from mice, moles, and fungi. If the weather is humid, use fungicides.
Growing cantaloupes is not a tedious or fussy task. You can enjoy the benefits of this tasty and healthy fruit with a homely touch.