photo credit: Mike the Gardener
|I was recently asked in a radio interview that I did, what is the one item that I grow in my garden that I never thought I would ever grow. While I would quickly say I have grown a lot of items in my garden that would fit this question, melons immediately popped into my head as that “one” item though.
There are a wide variety of choices when it comes to members of the Cucurbitaceae family. My answer was specifically geared toward cantaloupes, sometimes referred to as muskmelons. Muskmelon is a term used for a species of melon which include smooth skin varieties such as honeydew or netted skin varieties such as cantaloupe.
When I was a kid my dad, who oddly enough never grew cantaloupe, loved eating cantaloupe and would feed it to me and my two brothers all the time. I absolutely could not stand the flavor of cantaloupe and I took that with me into adulthood.
Fast forward, some years later, my wife decides she wants to grow some cantaloupe in our home garden. While I told her I would not personally eat it, I obliged. Ok, I really had no choice. In went the cantaloupe and about 100 days later, we had about a half dozen, ready to pick and consume.
To make a long story short, my wife asked me to try it and so I did, and it tasted nothing like what my dad would “feed” us when we were kids. It had a tremendously sweet flavor and an equally pleasant aroma. We gave a couple away to our neighbor who also felt the same way.
Today I grow a wide range of melons, and they have become a yearly addition to my home vegetable garden. Over time I have learned to utilize some space saving ideas such as growing them up (vertically), as opposed to out, and intertwining them through my corn as shown in the picture below.
WHEN I START
I like to start my melon seeds indoors about 6 weeks prior to the last frost in my area. I have a custom of not moving our melons to the garden until Mother’s Day weekend here in New Jersey. It has become a tradition along with many other vegetables that I grow.
HOW I START
I like to use cowpots with a good loose and friable soil along with a humidity dome, or a makeshift humidity dome that I created out of a 2 liter bottle (see the photo below), to start my seeds in. In about 10 to 14 days the seeds pop up and are on their way. I recommend that you use grow lights for better results, although I have placed them near a south facing window in the past and have done very well. However, I will be the first to tell you that you will do a lot better with grow lights.
I THEN ACCLIMATE THEM
The next step is to get them used to the outdoors, a process commonly referred to as “hardening off.” This allows your plants to get used to the outdoors by slowly acclimating them to the changing temperatures. The best way to do this is to take your plants outdoors, after the fear of frost has passed, during the day, and bring them back in at dusk. I will do this about a week or two prior to me moving them outdoors permanently.
Once the plants are in their final spot, the spot where they will (hopefully) grow plenty of juicy, delicious fruit, I make sure I keep the soil nice and moist by giving them a daily watering for about 5 minutes or so. If I had a drip line, this process would be much easier. I also will fertilize them weekly with compost and manure tea that I brew at home.
When the end of the cantaloupe that is not attached at the vine is just a bit “springy”, i.e. when pressed it “bounces back”, it is ready to harvest. The melon will also develop that sweet aroma that I talked about earlier.
On a final note make sure you choose a location that receives full sun all day. That is at least 8 hours. Be sure to condition your soil prior to planting by mixing in well aged compost. For best results, loosen the soil prior to planting.
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