Sweet, delicious cantaloupes are one of the finest fruits of the summer one can enjoy. Often times these are purchased at a grocery store or farmers market, but with a little time and effort you can grow your own. If you have as little as 20 square feet and a sunny location to grow in then you can grow your own cantaloupes. Here are some tips for cantaloupe growing.
Decide the variety of cantaloupe you want to grow. You can choose varieties that produce fruit 2 lbs or as much as 15 lbs. Some varieties also have a higher level of sugar content and are therefore sweeter. Others have a greater resilience to dry weather. You can research the different varieties and decide which one offers the qualities that you are looking for. In general, cantaloupes will harvest in 70 to 80 depending on size, the larger the fruit, the longer the time from seed to harvest.
Be sure to add plenty of compost (make sure there are no black walnut leaves included) and organic matter to the soil that you are growing in. The soil should drain well and have a balanced pH around 7 give or take a little. See this article about soil preparation for more information.
Grow in the sunniest location possible. Cantaloupes thrive in full sun and lots of heat. Typically warmer climates (closer to the equator) which have a longer growing season fare very well in producing cantaloupes. Climates where the growing season is much shorter can still produce a great cantaloupe crop, but there must be plenty of sun and as much heat as possible. Floating row covers designed specially for heating can be used to aid cantaloupe production in cooler weather climates.
Plant after the last frost in your area. You may directly sow your seeds or plant indoors in small pots to transplant later. The soil should be moist but not saturated. A temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for germination to occur, but avoid temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit as seedlings could burn up. If transplanting, take care to avoid damaging roots, use plenty of water during this process.
Provide cantaloupes with plenty of space to grow in. For smaller sized fruit (4 lbs and less) vines, a minimum of 20 square feet per plant is recommended, but for larger fruit vines (5 lbs and more) it is best to allow 40 or more square feet per plant. If each hill has two plants then add a third more square footage to what is listed above.
Once average temperatures have risen to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, apply mulch to the base of the plants, to allow the soil to retain moisture.
Feed plants with a fertilizer containg equal amounts of N:P:K, Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potash such as a 10:10:10 blend. Read all fertilizer application recommendations to avoid causing plant injury. During pollination time its best to lay off high nitrogen fertilizer applications as this would encourage the plant to grow more vines as opposed to setting fruit. Once fruit has set resume normal fertilizer applications.
Water your cantaloupe plants often, especially when they are tender. The soil should be moist but not saturated. Drip irrigation works very well and also limits getting plant leaves wet which can provide a breeding ground for bacteria which could introduce disease to your plants. Reduce watering to once every one or two weeks after fruit has set. At 1 to 2 weeks before anticipated harvest, stop watering as this dryness will result in a sweeter cantaloupe flavor.
INSECT AND DISEASE CONTROL:
Apply one or more good fungicides, to maintain plant health and prevent harmful diseases from taking your plants. Fungicides which are copper or sulfur based are a good natural choice.
Control insects. Two of the main insect pests for cantaloupes are cucumber beetles and squash bugs. These insects will take nutrients from the plants and introduce diseases to it as they are feeding reducing plant health. Cucumber beetles especially can harm the overall appearance of fruit as they feed on it so control is necessary, especially if grown for market. Applications of Neem oil and Diatomaceous Earth are natural pesticides that should provide good control. Always read and follow pesticide handling instructions. Hand picking of and crushing these insects is also quite effective. Using insect barrier floating row covers is another way to prevent insect access to plants, remember though you must remove these at pollination time to allow bees to access plants to transfer pollen and do their job. Here are some pre-season tips to help you control insect pests in your garden.
From pollination (when fruit is set) until harvest most cantaloupes will require somewhere around 30 days. Use this as an approximate guide for harvesting. Check the color and texture of your cantaloupes, because by maturity they should be reaching full netting (all the rugged, rough little lines on the surface of the fruit) and color, dependent on the variety. As you pull the cantaloupe fruit from the vine, it should slightly separate as you push it away from the vine, this means in a few days it will reach top eating quality. If the cantaloupe separates completely upon pushing, it is fully matured and is ready to eat right away.
Have a great time planting, growing, harvesting and eating your cantaloupes this year.
Muskmelon (Cantaloupe), University of Maryland Extension
Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist, Vegetables & Fruits; Anne Abend and Peggy Yen,
University of Maryland Extension Master Gardeners; March 2010
Watch Your Garden Grow, Muskmelon; University of Illinois Extension
Ron Wolford, Unit Educator, Urban Horticulture and Environment; Drusilla Banks
Extension Specialist, Food Science and Nutrition Programming