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Growing Muskmelon

How to Grow Muskmelon and Cantaloupe in Your Garden

Muskmelon, scientific name Cucumis melo, is a species of melon that has produced many cultivated varieties.

Cultivars include casaba, Crenshaw, and honeydew which are the smooth skinned variants; and Persian melon, Christmas or Santa Claus melon, and cantaloupe that are netted rind cultivars.

The Armenian cucumber is also a variety of muskmelon but its taste, shape and culinary uses are more similar to cucumber.

The cantaloupe or muskmelon is a warm-weather plant, and frequently referred to as summer melon along with watermelons.

Muskmelons are long trailing annual plants that have a rough and web-patterned rind, and weigh typically in the region of four pounds (1.8 Kg) or less.

Growing Muskmelon
Muskmelon photograph by Kirybabe.

They differ from true cantaloupe because of their aromatically perfumed flesh and very sweet taste. Muskmelons are usually round, with  yellow-tan with white, salmon or green netted rind flesh that weight about two to three pounds (0.9-1.3 kg). On the other hand, although true cantaloupe are aromatic and sweet tasting, they are globe or oval-shaped with rough, hard, warted or scaled rinds. They have yellow-tan, gray-green and salmon-orange flesh and weigh about two pounds (0.9Kg).

Some of the main varieties of muskmelon include:

  1. Early seasoned variety - Alaska (65-80 days before harvest); Earligold (73 days); Sweet 'N Early (75 days); Canada Gem (78 days); Primo (79 days); Solid Gold (80 days); Early Hanover (80 days); Pulsar (80 days); Magnum (80 days); and Sweet Granite (80 days).
  2. Midseason variety -  Delicious (83 days before harvest); Pike (85 days); Superstar (86 days); Ambrosia (86 days); Pulsar (86 days); Hale's Best (86 days); Edisto (88 days); Grande Gold (88 days); Imperial (90 days); Super Market (90 days); and Roadside (90 days).
  3. Late season variety -  Top Mark (90 days before harvest); Kansas (90 days); Iroquois (90 days); Saticoy (90 days); Hearts of Gold (95 days); and : Edisto (95 days).
  4. Large variety - Old Time Tennessee (90 days before harvest).
  5. Space savers variety - Jenny Lind (75 days before harvest and Bush Star (80 days).

Soil Preparation for Growing Muskmelon and Cantaloupes

Cantaloupes and Muskmelon are best grown in sunny location in well-drained and rich soils.

Two to three weeks before planting incorporate plenty of organic matter, and apply a complete fertilizer.

Melons prefer soil of pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Make sure that there is enough space in the garden to grow muskmelons as they spread in the ground.

Planting and Spacing Muskmelon

Muskmelons can be grown from seed, or transplanted from seedlings. The seeds should be sown one to two inches ( 2.5-5 cm) deep while transplants should first have a well-developed root system with two to three matures leaves.

Transplants normally mature about two weeks ahead of sown melons.

Muskmelons can be planted after the last chance of frost has past when soils are about 65°F (18°C).

Sow four to six seeds in mounds that are four feet (120 cm) apart.

Once two leaves have grown, thin to two plants per mound at about two feet (60 cm) apart. When transplanting, make sure to avoid damaging roots as this will slow growth and establishment.

Cucumis melo
Cucumis melo fruits by USDA.

Muskmelon Care

Water the plant infrequently but deeply, and if possible use drip irrigation.

Mulch around the plant to help retain soil moisture and reduce the growth of weeds. Black plastic mulch can warm the soil, helps to control weeds and conserves water. It can also allow earlier planting, and hence maturity especially for transplants.

Seeds can be sown out about two weeks before the last frost date when plastic mulches and row covers are used. Avoid applying organic mulches until the soil is warmer than 75°F (24°C).

Straw, newspapers, grass clippings can also be used as a mulch to control weeds and conserve water.

Once vines have developed runners, side dress the plant with a nitrogen fertilizer at every mound or plant.

Troubleshooting

Cucumber beetles and aphids can attack muskmelons. Hand-pick and destroy cucumber beetles immediately as they can spread bacterial wilt to melons.

Pinch out infested foliage and hose away aphids with a blast of water.

Melons are also susceptible to blight, wilt, root rot and mildew.

Keep the garden free of debris as pests and diseases can thrive on them. Destroy and remove infected plants as soon as possible.

Harvest Muskmelon and Storage Conditions

Cantaloupes and muskmelons are ready to be harvested 70 to 100 days after sowing.

Melons are ready for harvest once they reach their full size, and their stems become brown.

Melons should be left on the vine until they are ripe; the ripe melons will naturally slip easily off the stem while the half-ripe melon requires more pressure.

Ripe muskmelons have a sweet aroma at the end of the stem.

Melons can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or two. They can also be pickled or frozen.

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