Muskmelon were first documented growing in the floodplains of the Nile Delta thousands of years ago. Their cultivation spread early throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Muskmelon are one of the true treats of the garden. The firm rind (which is edible and delicious when pickled) holds flesh pastel in color and powerfully sweet in taste. Prepare yourself for the exquisite sweetness of your own homegrown melons—the flavor is a dramatic departure from bland grocery store wannabes. Discover the tricks of the trade for growing melons in the Coastal Bend this season.
Muskmelon includes cantaloupe, honeydew and casaba melons. Cantaloupe has lovely orange flesh, while honeydew is a light shade of green and casaba melon is yellow. Honeydew is the sweetest, casaba tastes of cucumber and cantaloupe from your garden tastes of honey.
By the 1200s, muskmelon arrived in Europe; and cantaloupe became (and remains) especially popular in Italy. The name cantaloupe itself was coined in the Italian city of Cantalupo, where popes had a country estate and famously dined on sweet cantaloupe melons every summer.
Today, China leads the world in cantaloupe production, followed by Turkey. California produces the most cantaloupes in the United States, followed by Arizona. The regions where they thrive demonstrate ideal muskmelon cultivation requirements: long periods of warm, but not too hot, weather accompanied by minimal, gentle rainfall.
In the Coastal Bend, plant muskmelon by transplant in early March. They require 85 to 100 days to mature, which means early March planting allows muskmelon to fully ripen before the piercing heat of July shuts down production.
Spacing: 24” down row, rows 48” apart. Plant from transplant in early March. Full sun. Well-drained, sandy soil. Add several inches compost to soil, plus four cups pastured poultry manure and two cups native wood ash per plant. Side dress with two cups pastured poultry manure at first sign of blooms. Mulch with native leaf mulch. Water as needed until first fruits form. Treat aphids by introducing ladybugs.
Be prepared for a heavy vine presence with vines up to 8’ in length. Leaves and vines grow thick and lush, but diminish as fruit mature. Can be grown on a sturdy trellis. Vines must be woven into trellis to support weight. Once fruit forms, insert each fruit into pantyhose and tie to the trellis so the heavy, mature fruit doesn’t fall off vine. Deer and raccoons are significant pests of nearly ripened fruit.
Here are a few secrets to achieving the sweetest muskmelon: First, add at least two cups of native wood ash per plant. Wood ash from native trees contains potassium and many trace minerals that enhance sweetness. Do not water plants once fruit sets. Lastly, let cantaloupes fully ripen on the vine. Ripening (and potential sweetness) stops once fruit is picked. The vine should easily fall away and the blossom end of fruit should have a sweet smell. Refrigerate immediately.