Growing Cantaloupes In Your Garden, Why Not?

Cantaloupes have certain requirements. They like sandy-loam, humus-rich soil that is close to neutral pH (6.8 to 7.0), hot weather, and room to spread

To provide the room I set aside a bed 25 by 25 feet. Along each side of this bed, I planted 2-rows of peas; down the middle I planted 4-rows of radishes, lettuce and green onions, 10-rows in all. Then I planted the hills of cantaloupes down the middle of the remaining wide rows. The peas and other early vegetables were used by the time the cantaloupes needed more space. Note: If you have a really small garden, cantaloupes can be grown on trellises

Since the soil was heavy, acid clay that was slow to warm up in the spring, providing a warm, sandy soil was a bit of a problem. My solution was to dig a hole about 2-feet in diameter and 2-feet deep for each cantaloupe hill

I filled the hole with alternate layers of composted horse manure, sand and bone meal. The composted manure provided nitrogen (N) and potassium (K); the bone meal, calcuim and phosphorus (Ca. and P). I mixed all the layers together with a spading fork, except for a final layer of sand on top.

Now, I had a pocket of sandy soil rich in organic matter (compost) that cantaloupes love. I sprinkled Dolomitic limestone on top of the soil after I planted the seeds. Rain soon washed it into the soil.

Preparing the soil for cantaloupes the way I did may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn't if you just do 2 or 3-hills a day. I like to plant cantaloupes (usually 20-hills in all) over a period of a month's time so that they don't all get ripe at once. I've noticed that the plants started the earliest produced the largest, sweetest melons. This is because they are making fruit during the hottest weather of July and August.

I mulch the plants as soon as possible after planting them. I use hay or straw mulch everywhere in the garden. Once the mulch is in place there is no more work until the fruits get ripe.

One of the worst insects in the garden, certainly the worst for melons, is the striped or spotted cucumber beetle. In a bad year, this small, innocent looking bug, along with countless of her cousins, can all but wipe out a cantaloupe patch; even in a good year, yields can be reduced. They'll greedily devour tender young emerging plants before they have a chance to get started, Feast on bigger leaves of older plants and spread bacterial wilt from plant to plant.

Some organic gardeners recommend planting radishes around the borders of cantaloupe rows and hills to deter cucumber beetles.

Presumably, the quicker growing radishes serve as cover and camouflage for the young cantaloupe seedlings, or the strong odor or taste of the radishes is unpleasant to the beetles. If spraying or dusting is needed, rotenone and /or/ pyrethrum are natural insecticides that will control cucumber beetles But the best way to control insects and diseases is to use soil nutrition. healthy soil makes healthy plants, no insects!

Long Island gardeners can start cantaloupes indoors in celpacks about 3 to 4-weeks before the last frost date, transplanting them outside when the soil is warm, May 15 - June 15th. If directly seeded into the garden, they can be sown about 1 to 3-weeks after last frost, in warm soil, around June 1st.

There you have it, the ingredients for a bumper crop of cantaloupes: preparing rich soil, selecting genetic superstars, effective pest control, cold protection, and using yield-boosting mulches and drip-irrigation. As you can see, there's more to it than just dropping a seed in the soil and hoping for the best; planning, hard work and some expense will be involved here but this is gardening at its best. The payoff comes at harvest when, perhaps for the first time, not only will both your handcart be full but you'll have to add siderails to hold the surplus of cantaloupes ! Enjoy.

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1995 Fruits and Berries