Originally posted 3/18/2011
Growing cucurbits, or members of the Cucurbitaceae family, is a lot of fun and relatively easy to do from seed. Cucurbits are commonly known as gourds, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons (such as cantaloupe and watermelon.) One of my favorite melons to grow (and eat) is the cantaloupe.
Through my research, I have come to realize that what we call cantaloupe in North America is technically a muskmelon. The true cantaloupe, sometimes called a European cantaloupe, is gray-green and smooth skinned. The cantaloupe of the US is tan in color and has a rough net-like exterior. The interior of the two fruits are pretty much the same, however. For this blog entry, I am speaking about the cantaloupe of the U.S.
A cantaloupe’s orange color speaks to its high nutritional value. Bursting with beta-carotenes, only one cup of this fruit will amazingly provide you with 108% of your daily requirement of Vitamin A. In addition, you will get 96% of your requirement of Vitamin C. Two very good reasons to try your hand at growing this melon! The best time to plant cucurbits in general is after the danger of the last frost has passed, usually around late March or early April in North Texas. As mentioned earlier, cantaloupes germinate quite easily when sown directly in the soil. Essentially vine crops, one major requirement of cucurbits is they need plenty of room to spread. If you have ample horizontal space, I have found the best method to grow cantaloupe is to create slightly elevated mounds at least three feet apart, sowing 3 – 4 seeds (or plant ing 3 – 4 seedlings) at the top of each mound. However, if you do not have a lot of horizontal space but wish to grow cantaloupe or other cucurbits, you can certainly do so vertically! Since my veggie bed is along my driveway and is in an oblong shape measuring roughly only 12′ X 6′, I grow my cantaloupe plants vertically within a wire tomato cage. As the plant grows, it sends out very sturdy tendrils that help the vine climb the cage. Cantaloupe and other cucurbits are actually very attractive growing upright due to the pretty yellow flowers they produce before fruiting. Speaking of fruit, this is where the interesting, but somewhat funny, activity begins with vertical gardening. If the fruit of your vine is quite heavy (as are cantaloupes and certainly, watermelons) you may need to provide it early support for a successful harvest. Otherwise, it may become severely misshaped or, worse, fall off the vine too soon due to its weight. This is when a cantaloupe hammock comes in handy. As your cantaloupe plants begin to bloom, take note and watch for fruit to develop at the bloom sites. Once you see a small fruit forming, keep watch from day to day until it gets to be about the size of a tennis ball. This is about the time to provide it a hammock.
How do you create cantaloupe hammocks? Very easily and inexpensively! You simply use pantyhose! Take an old pair (certainly, a new pair will do if you don’t have a woman in the household) and cut the legs at the feet and thigh, leaving an open ended long rectangular section. Cut the rectangular section into three equal parts for three hammocks. Go out to your wire cage and gently place the budding fruit on top of one of the sections and tie the ends onto the cage, lightly spreading the pantyhose around the bottom half of the fruit to provide ample support to your cantaloupe. Why use pantyhose? For two reasons: It expands and allows your fruit to grow naturally and it allows your plant to breathe. Perfect!
Above is a photo of one of my cantaloupes, relaxing in a hammock, from last year’s garden. (Note the hammock is made of opaque white, 1980’s-style pantyhose. What was I thinking?!) At any rate, this particular plant became overly aggressive and actually grew up into my pomegranate tree. No worries, I just tied the pantyhose hammocks onto the tree and later enjoyed a bountiful crop!
Until next time,