MELON (Cucumis melo)
Common Names: Melon, muskmelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, sweet melon, dudaim melon, Queen Anne’s melon, Armenian cucumber, snake cucumber, wild melon, orange melon, pickling melon, serpent melon, snap melon, round melon, casaba, winter melon, melão (Portuguese), kharbuz / kharbuza (Pakistan), tian gua (pinyin, China) (1,4,5,6).
Requires six hours or more of strong, direct sun per day.
Members of the species Cucumis melo of the Cucurbitaceae include both cantaloupe and winter melon varieties.
Though their cultural requirements are similar, watermelons are classified as Citrullus lanatus. All varieties of Cucumis melo are also known as muskmelons, even though not all are musk-scented.
Botanically speaking, the term "cantaloupe" should be applied only to melons with a rough, warty surface and hard rind. This type is classified C. m. var. cantalupensis and is not grown in the United States. The green- and yellow green-skinned, netted melons, classified as C. m. var. reticulates, are called cantaloupes in this country.
The winter melons (C. m. var. inodorus) are late-maturing types grown in California. They will keep well into winter if stored in a cool dry place. They include the following melons: the Honey Dew, with smooth ivory white or greenish skin and firm green flesh; the Casaba, globular fruits with pointed stem ends which have golden yellow skins when ripe, and thick white flesh; and the Crenshaw, pear-shaped fruits with pale yellow tan skins which may be thinly netted, and thick, light salmon-colored flesh with a delicate flavor.
The culture and planting of Melons
The culture for all melons is very similar. They will not do well in heavy clay soils and will do nothing at all until the weather warms. Cool temperatures and prolonged cloudiness, even where no freezing occurs, are hard on these sensitive plants.
In order to produce the most flavorable and robust melons they should be planted when the moon is in the 2nd Quarter (i.e. waxing) and in one of the following Zodiac Signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces.
In warm areas they can be started in the garden from seed; in colder areas they should be started indoors in individual peat pots or other containers which can go directly into the garden. They transplant badly and will not thrive if their roots are disturbed.
Slopes and south-facing hills are ideal sites for planting melons. They are heavy feeders, so an application of well-rotted manure to the planting site is advisable. They prefer a humus-rich soil which is sandy, light and friable.
Plant about six to eight seeds in each 12-inch hill, to which has been added a shovelful of rich compost or manure. One ounce of seed will plant about 20 hills. In about two weeks the seed should germinate and plants appear.
When four inches high, they should be thinned to three plants per hill. If seedlings are used, plant three or four per hill. The young plants require lots of moisture, so mulch each hill well. Water thoroughly at least once each week as fruits begin to form, but allow the ground to dry out a bit as they approach maturity.
Melon pests and diseases
The most serious threats to the melon family are the striped and spotted cucumber beetles. In addition to feeding on the plant's leaves, stems and roots, the beetles carry the fungus which causes fusarium wilt. If infected by the wilt, the plants may suddenly wither away even if they appeared, up to that time, to be flourishing.
The beetles have less opportunity to damage young plants when seedlings are used than when seeds are planted, and further protection can be gained by covering the young plants with glass jars.
As the plants outgrow the jars, screen boxes or tents of mosquito netting or cheesecloth can be substituted. A mixture of 75 percent colloidal phosphate and 25 percent wood ashes may also deter the cucumber beetle. To be effective, this mixture should be applied frequently—two or three times a week and after heavy rains.
Each melon vine usually produces three or four fruits. The size of the melon is some indication of its maturity, and many people are able to detect the ripe melon by its characteristic aroma. However, the stems are the surest indicators.
As the fruit matures small cracks appear in the stem where it joins the fruit. When the cracks circle the stem, and the stem itself looks shriveled, the melon will break off with a light twist. If more than light pressure is necessary to pick the fruit, it's not ripe and should be left on the vine. For peak flavor allow the melon to rest a day or two before serving.
Certain melon types, like honeydew and crenshaw will be overripe by the time they reach the stage where the stem separates easily from the vine. They must be cut off when they are mature enough for harvest.
Cantaloupe rinds are quite valuable in the compost heap. Their ash contains almost 10 percent phosphoric acid and over 12 percent potash. They decay readily and help activate decomposition.
Though melons have been hybridized to produce fruits which ripen earlier and are able to develop in the shorter growing season of the North, early frosts frequently catch a portion of the crop still on the vine. Beginning in early September, gardeners threatened by early frost should cover their melons with bushel baskets at night.
Varieties of Melons
Proven, dependable varieties include Burpee Hybrid, Hearts of Gold, Hale's Best, Fordhook Gem, and Mainerock Hybrid.