Q: What tips would you give for growing sweet cantaloupe?
A: “Cantaloupe” has become the generic name of all netted, musk-scented melons. Most varieties require about 90 days to produce fruit, so be patient.
Melons need high temperatures, so they produce their best in warm interior valleys at average air temperatures between 65 degrees and 75 degrees.
When planting in groups or hills, sow four to six melon seeds per hill and space the hills 4 feet to 6 feet apart. Sow 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep. After germination, only keep the three or four healthiest plants. Using a little 16-20-0 (ammonium phosphate) mixed into the soil before planting will help the melons get off to a good start.
Cantaloupe vines have separate male and female flowers, and bees are required for pollination, so prevent killing of bees. If you must use insecticides, do so late in the evening. Male blooms form first and do not set fruit, so don’t be concerned when male flowers fall off.
Fruit in contact with soil may develop rotten spots or be damaged by insects on the bottom. Slide a board under each melon when it’s about half-grown to prevent it from rotting. Melons need a lot of water, so water in the morning so the foliage has time to dry before dark; wet leaves encourage foliar diseases. Drip irrigation works the best because it applies water in the plant root zone but does not wet the foliage. When watering, make sure the soil is moistened to a depth of at least 6 inches. Melons need extra water during fruit set and development.
Fertilize a second time after bloom when fruit is developing on the vine. Be careful — too much nitrogen fertilizer can encourage excessive vine growth and reduce fruit growth.
High rainfall or excessive irrigation as the cantaloupes near maturity will adversely affect fruit flavor. Make sure plants get at least 1 inch of water a week at the beginning of the growing season, but stop watering when the fruits begin to ripen. They’ll develop better flavor if they don’t get too much moisture during the last week or two.
Harvest melons when a slight crack completely circles the stem where it is attached to the fruit. When the stem separates completely, called “full slip,” the cantaloupe fruit has achieved its maximum sugar development.
Poorly formed fruit or reduced numbers of fruit can be due to several problems, but lack of pollination by bees is one of the most common causes. Blossom end rot is primarily due to inadequate calcium in the plant. Applying too much nitrogen fertilizer or planting too close can cause the plant to produce a lot of vine growth and very little fruit.
The planting window of cantaloupe is Feb. 15 to Aug. 15.