How To Grow Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe grown in the confines of your own backyard provides an wonderful flavor that is not available from any store bought melon. The key to attaining this amazing flavor is sunshine, moisture, and heat. Because melons require many months of direct sun and plenty of warm weather, growing them in colder USDA zones in the north part of the country or at higher elevations can be quite difficult. Gardeners in nearly any area of the nation can use a form of covering to keep the soil warm throughout the cantaloupe growing area. Additional covers above the plants can trap heat close enough to the ground to give plants the heat they need in cold weather. These tactics allows gardeners in colder areas to enjoy delicious homegrown melons year round. Not only do crops grown in your own yard have a great flavor, but they are also far healthier than eating anything processed with artificial chemicals and fertilizers from most supermarkets. Every bite of your home-grown cantaloupe is packed with a nutritious punch.
Melons must be kept in soil that remains warm during the entire season. The temperature of the ground must be in the 70s to begin planting cantaloupe seedlings. While plants may live if set into the ground at colder temperatures, their fruit is likely to be small and too bitter to be edible. Before placing small seedlings into the ground, cover the ground with a black tarp or film to keep it heated overnight. Then, during the daytime the next afternoon, plant individual seeds or seedlings into a pre-fertilized bed of soil. The best option is to use soil that already has organic compost or rotten manure embedded into the ground at even intervals. This ensures that the new seeds have the best chance to grow.
A second method is to think about an option used by the most experienced and knowledgeable gardeners. Before even beginning to think about growing cantaloupe, prepare the soil days in advance. Take at least 12 inches of soil away from the planting location and set it aside. Then add 3/4 of a foot of fresh manure or organic fertilizer. Finally, cover the last few inches with a mix of plain soil and organic compost. Then when planting cantaloupe, be sure to provide spacing along the bed. This process ensures a high-content of nitrogen with equal spacing throughout the planting bed. Because so much room is needed deep within the soil, it is impossible to use this method after crops are already in the ground.
You can also save some room when making your cantaloupe garden by taking advantage of trellises. In you need to save even more space, take the individual cantaloupe plants and leave a whole foot apart at the bottom of the trellises. When using trellises to grow melons, make sure you use a plant-friendly tie that will not hurt the stems of the plant. Of course, you must secure the vines of the plant to the trellis to keep the growth from expanding too far in neighboring areas. The minimum size for a cantaloupe trellis is quite large. Look for at big as 22 feet in width and 10 feet in height for maximum plant size and growth.
In colder areas of the country, make sure to worry about enough sun and heat for cantaloupes grown on a trellis. Placing a trellis and the plants near or on top of a reflective surface can double the amount of sun hitting the plant. You can also deter some of the bugs that would otherwise attack the plant by using this method. All trellis gardening requires very strong ties between the trellis and the ground and between the trellis and vines to prevent the plants from falling or blowing away.
Following a new crop being placed into the ground during the first warm months, place a light cover on top of new seedlings to protect them from pests and trap heat. Your cantaloupe plants will not grow without a cover in cold areas of the country, but even warmer growth zones will benefit from stopping insects from attacking your baby plants. Tarp or gardening fabric is also a common choice. Make sure to cut some holes in the material if it is too large for you to work with.
For vines growing in the dirt, keep the fresh fruit from directly laying on the soil as to prevent rot and to protect the fruits from insects. To do so, place the ripening melons on mulch, upturned coffee cans, or flower pots. If big critters such as groundhogs stumble across your melons, shield the ripening fruits by covering them with plastic milk crates or any similar boxes weighted down with a few bricks. Vines produce individual flowers of both genders. Male flowers are the first to bloom. About a week after the males appear, you will see new female flowers off the vine. The female blossoms have a slight swelling in the foundation of the bloom. Remove the row covers when the flowers begin the bloom so the flowers can be visited by bees.
Take care of the weeds before the vines begin to move far away from their soil location. With time, it becomes nearly impossible to walk among the vines without breaking them. By mulching the soil underneath the vines, you can curb the weeds and slow the evaporation of moisture throughout the ground under your cantaloupe. Of course if you have your seeds secure under a ground covering then you do not have to worry as much about evaporation or pests.
In addition to worrying about bugs and heat, cantaloupe farmers need to be cognizant of water. Cantaloupes need a very specific amount of water and on a consistent basis to live. The plant vines are especially dependent upon a water supply before they produce any fruits or flowers. Unfortunately over-watering is also a threat to the cantaloupe plants. A good rule of thumb is to leave the ground moist all the time. You might see some of the leaves near the edges of each vine wilting slightly during the day. You should never see leaves anywhere on the vine wilting at night. Like other fruit-bearing vines, keep water close to the soil and away from the flowers and fruit to ward off fungus.
Adjusting between different types of nutrients may help your cantaloupe thrive. In general, the first fertilizer for your cantaloupe plants should be high in nitrogen and low in phosphorus or potassium. Later when the plant starts to blossom, move to a fertilizer lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus or potassium.
Unfortunately for an old wive’s tale, cropping the new shoots off a vine as the individual melons ripen do not encourage the plant to ripen faster. Every part of the vine works toward metabolizing energy and turning it into a sweeter crop. Do not try to trim or cut individual vine branches while the crop is being produced. The warmth of the growing area, amount of nutrients in the soil, and level of water in the ground are far more effective methods of controlling the taste of home-grown cantaloupe.
The more individual melons growing on a vine, the less sweet all the fruits. Vines with just a few melons can concentrate all energy towards making those crops better. Vines with tons of cantaloupes end up with a bitter harvest. For the best tasting plants, cut off the youngest individual melons while the oldest is ripening. Once the ripe one has been harvested, then let a new melon form and start the process again.
Lots of sugar being stored and created in the vine leaves are essential to a good crop. Any pest or disease which attacks the leaves also kills the flavor and consistency of the melon harvest. Ward off disease and pest early in the growth cycle or they will spread to the entire crop in the garden. Rotten fruit is easy to spot and should be removed immediately as it serves as a host for all sorts of pests and problems.
Special remedies are available for each type of problem. Fungicides can kill any cantaloupe fungus problem. You can spot fungus because it leaves a distinct color and texture on top of the melons or the vine leaves. Bugs such as aphids are also a common problem with cantaloupe. Soap designed to kill pests is the best way to fight bugs and more dangerous beetles. Try not to harm the beneficial bees which are necessary to fertilize your cantaloupe flowers.
Cantaloupes largely ripen in a short period of about one month. As soon as you see the first melon, you will soon see more appear. Just before an individual cantaloupe is ready to be picked, limit the water intake of the entire vine. This process forces the plant to have a higher concentration of high-sugar in the cantaloupe and limits the water dilution experienced by the entire crop.
To identify cantaloupe ready for harvest, inspect the color of the plant and stalk. Cantaloupe rink looks yellow as it is ripe. The fruit will become lighter in color as it is ready to be picked. Make sure you do not poke or prod the fruit to test for ripeness since it is prone to damage. Any bruises will be an invitation for bugs and disease to attach the vulnerable innards of the crop. Ripe cantaloupe will fall off the vine with minimal effort.
Be sure to eat your cantaloupe within a week of picking for the best flavor. Otherwise keep individual fruit in the freezer for as long as a year to retain freshness. Few people eat the hard, outer shell. Cantaloupe is best served in slices or cut cubes. Otherwise it can be found in soups, with meat, or as a garnish.