Ted W. Gastier
Muskmelons originated in the hot valleys of southwest Asia. There are numerous botanical varieties of muskmelons including: netted melons, cantaloupe melons, winter (casaba) melons, snake or serpent melons, and mango or lemon melons. Technically, cantaloupes are only those muskmelons with a rough, warty surface and a hard rind; however, the name cantaloupe has been applied to the netted varieties of muskmelons.
Whether you call them muskmelons or cantaloupes, we can agree that a vine-ripened melon from your garden adds high dessert quality and fine flavor to your family's diet. In addition, muskmelons are an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
Muskmelons are a warm season crop, adapted to mean monthly temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F, and needing ample soil moisture and plant nutrients for growth. During the ripening period the best quality melons are produced when hot, dry conditions prevail. Under Ohio's humid summer conditions, choosing a site with adequate soil drainage as well as good air drainage can help to ensure the desired quality. It is important to allow the leaf surfaces to dry to control foliar diseases.
Fertilizer and lime applications are best based on soil test results. Soil sample bags, forms and instructions are available from your county Extension office. In general, when using black plastic mulch, the following amounts of fertilizer nutrients per 1,000 square feet of plot space would be adequate: 1 pound of actual nitrogen, 2 pounds of phosphorus (P2O5), and 3 pounds of potash (K2O). On bare ground increase the amount of nitrogen by 25 percent. This would best be done as a sidedress application when vines begin to run. Keep in mind that excessive nitrogen fertilizer can delay maturity and affect fruit quality, especially in seasons with heavy rainfall. Lime should be applied only if indicated by soil test results so as to maintain a pH of 6.4 to 6.7.
The use of black plastic mulch will conserve moisture, control weeds in the row, and assist in an earlier harvest. Hills of two plants or seeds should be spaced three feet apart on the strips of plastic which are placed on five-foot centers. Melon plants can be purchased or started in peat pots or pellets about 25 days before the anticipated planting time. Since melon plants are very sensitive to freezing temperatures, they should not be set out until all danger of frost has passed. Muskmelons can also be direct-seeded through holes cut in the plastic, but this can delay harvest.
Many new cultivars are being released by seed companies. Try several new cultivars in addition to these suggestions:
Note that no ranking is implied by the order in which these cultivars are listed. Newer cultivars listed in the "Midwestern Vegetable Variety Trial Report for 1991" worthy of trial are as follows:
Where garden space is limited, several "bush" type cultivars are available:
Cucumber beetles (both spotted and striped) are vectors or carriers of a potentially devastating disease known as bacterial wilt. Protecting the plants with insecticides (or row covers until flowering) is necessary, since there are no control measures for bacterial wilt once the plants are infected. Other pests of muskmelons are aphids, flea beetles, and melonworms.
Several diseases can be troublesome when raising muskmelons. These include powdery mildew, downy mildew, alternaria leaf spot, anthracnose, and fusarium wilt. Crop rotation, resistant cultivars, and fungicides are important control measures. For assistance in controlling muskmelon insects and diseases, consult your county Extension office.
Home gardeners sometimes ask why the earliest blossoms on their muskmelon vines do not set fruit. The first flowers developing on the vines are male or pollen-bearing flowers. Only the female or pistillate flowers are capable of developing into fruit. Honey bees are the most effective pollinators of muskmelon blossoms. Every effort should be made to protect the bees during the flowering periods to ensure high-quality melons.
The slipping of the stem from the melon with slight finger pressure is an excellent indicator of melon ripeness. Those fruit that show a change of color from green or olive-grey to yellowish brown should be considered ready to harvest. For best quality, walk the patch daily.
The author gratefully acknowledges James D. Utzinger, William M. Brooks, and E.C. Wittmeyer on whose original fact sheet this is based. This fact sheet was reviewed by Eugene Wittmeyer, professor emeritus, The Ohio State University, Department of Horticulture, and Marianne Riofrio, Extension Associate, The Ohio State University, Department of Horticulture.
All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.
Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
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