Pumpkins, squash, honeydew, and zucchini are also star members. Grown as a summer annual in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10, the fruit develops on a trailing vine, which can trained up a trellis to save space.
Most varieties mature in 65-90 days and produce round fruits that weigh up to 3-4 pounds.
In their 1896 book, “Vegetables for the Home Garden,” available at Amazon, the author writes, “Burpee’s Netted Gem was first named and introduced by us 15 years ago. In shape this melon is almost a perfect globe, with green skin, regularly ribbed, and thickly netted.”
A nice blast from the past that first sentence is!
Today, people all over the world favor cantaloupe over watermelon – oh wait, maybe that’s just me! – and use it in fruit salads, wrap it in prosciutto for a popular antipasti, and eat it on the rind for a delicious summertime snack. You can also roast and snack on the seeds.
You can start this fruit from seed indoors or outdoors, or from seedlings purchased at a garden center.
In the north, with the shorter growing season, it’s an ideal summer crop as long as it’s got some help to stay warm.
Southern states can grow the melon earlier in the spring or even during the fall in some areas.
Those of you who live in colder climates, like I do, should sow seeds indoors at least four weeks before your average last frost date.
Since melons require a long growing season, and take time to ripen, a head start like this helps guarantee that you’ll get to harvest your melons before fall frosts kill the plants.
Photo by Laura Melchor.
Germination usually takes about a week, sometimes longer if soil conditions aren’t quite at 70°F. You can use heat mat to ensure the soil stays at a consistent 70°F – the ideal temperature for germination.
Make sure to keep that spray bottle nearby – cantaloupe seedlings need constant moisture in the early days.
A few days after germination, thin to one seedling per cell, keeping the one that looks the strongest.
Keep your seed trays near a sunny window or place them under a grow light.
Once they’ve got two or three sets of true leaves, you’ll need to harden them off for 7-10 days before transplanting outdoors.
A quick note: sometimes the seed casings won’t come off the seedling immediately it pushes out of the earth, especially if you accidentally plant the seedlings the wrong way up.
If these casings don’t fall off within a couple days, gently tug them off with your fingers. Leaving them on can inhibit the plant’s growth.
Those of you living in warmer climates can direct sow outdoors in full sun as soon as the danger of frost has passed.
To sow outdoors, plant three seeds in 1/2-inch-deep holes, 18-24 inches apart. Keep them evenly moist until germination.
Once seedlings have two sets of true leaves, thin them so that there’s only one plant every 18-24 inches.
From Seedlings and Transplanting
Did you pick up a tray of starts at your local nursery? Or are your seedlings big enough to transplant out? Here’s how to make sure they settle nicely into your garden.
raised beds or old-fashioned row garden is loose, well-draining, and ready for the melons.
Make sure that the material you use is breathable. You don’t want to accidentally rot the melons by sticking them in a plastic bag.
Simply put the net around the melon and tie it to the trellis, frame, or pole. As the melon grows, the sling will expand and support it so that it does not break the vine.
Also, remember to trim the vines to encourage the plant to focus its energy on making big, juicy melons.
strawberries, melons send out runners.
To grow large melons, trim each plant at the leaf node just past the one bearing the fruit and consider only keeping two to three fruits on each plant.
The plant will then put all of its energy into growing those fruits to a nice, large size.
But if you don’t mind smaller melons and want a fuller crop, you can let the vines grow as they will and only trim them back if they are spilling over the edge of your raised bed or encroaching on other plants.
As frosty fall weather approaches and your melons begin ripening, pinch off any new flowers to allow the energy to focus on ripening existing fruit.
Make sure to plant in organically rich soil
Keep melons warm in cold weather and help them stay cool if temps rise above 95°F-100°F.
Provide 1-2 inches of water per week until fruit appears, and then scale it back to 1 inch and then 1/2 inch about a week before harvest.
Trim to just 2-3 melons per plant for large fruit or not at all for lots of smaller fruits.
Cultivars to Select
Here are my favorite cantaloupe varieties for your home garden:
Hearts of Gold
This sweet, medium-sized cantaloupe grows well in Zones 3-10, which is why I chose it for my Alaska garden. Back in the 1900s, when it was cultivated, this was the most popular commercial melon in the United States.
It’ll mature within 80-90 days and weigh in at two to three pounds. Vines will spread up to 72 inches and grow 15-18 inches tall.
With just a touch of ribbing and a thin, netted rind, this is a classic cultivar to suit those of us who adore super-sweet melons. Plus, they’re resistant to one of cantaloupe’s most prolific diseases: powdery mildew.
Laura Melchor grew up helping her mom in the garden in Montana, and as an adult she’s brought her cold-weather gardening skills with her to her home in Alaska. She’s especially proud of the flowerbeds she and her three-year-old son built with rocks dug up from their little Alaska homestead. As a freelance writer, she contributes to several websites and blogs across the web. Laura also writes novels and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
“How to Grow Cantaloupe in the Garden” was first posted here