The cantaloupe is technically a type of muskmelon that is thought to have originated in the region of Armenia. From its birthplace, this rotund fruit has traveled many miles, moving to Italy and eventually North America via traders and sailors who took seeds along with them on their journeys. Depending on where one is in the world, cantaloupes may vary in color and size; however, most varieties in the US are green and orange in color when ripe and approximately 3 to 15 pounds, although some varieties can grow even larger under the correct circumstances.
Hale’s Best melon is an old heirloom variety whose popularity is still going strong. With 6–7 inch diameter oval-shaped fruits with a delicious and filling sweet taste and a small seed cavity, this orange-fleshed melon earns its reputation as (one of) the best. The vines can grow up to 5 feet long and plants prefer a hot season to mature in. Their thin skin makes them less than ideal for long storage or transport, but you shouldn’t have to worry because these netted and yellow-green skinned fruits will be gone in a flash.
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: 12–24″
Space Between Rows: 3–5′
Germination Soil Temperature: 65–90°F
Days for Germination: 5–10
Sow Indoors: Not recommended since they don’t transplant well. If you have a short growing season, start 4–6 weeks before average last frost date, using biodegradable paper or compostable pots which can be directly planted after removing the bottoms.
Sow Outdoors: 1–2 weeks after average last frost date.
Grows best in hot weather and loves climates with long summers. Temperatures of 90°F and above will result in the sweetest fruit. Not frost tolerant.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Grows well under HID lamps. Needs at least 6–8 hours of light daily; however, more is better.
Soil: Prefers well-drained, sandy to loamy soils. A pH between 6.0 and 7.0 will keep plans healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Start seeds in a soilless mix or mineral wool to allow for easy transplanting.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including NFT and media-based systems. Use perlite as your growing medium.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water in the beginning of its life cycle and low amounts during ripening. Aim for 1–2″ of water per week during growing periods. Reduce the amount drastically once fruit is about 2–3″ in diameter to prevent splitting or bland-flavored fruits. If leaves appear wilted early in the morning, water plants deeply, but don’t be worried by mid-day wilting: this is natural and doesn’t mean your vines have issues. Use a drip system or carefully hand water to avoid getting leaves wet.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients. Cantaloupe needs more phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen, which would promote leafy growth at the expense of fruiting. Amend soil with aged manure or compost before planting.
Foliar: Will benefit from a feeding of compost tea or liquid seaweed when fruit begins to form. Foliar potassium will also help fruits to be more firm and sweeter. A spray of potassium bicarbonate and thyme oil will help to reduce foliar disease.
Pruning: Once fruit starts to form, pinch back the end buds of your vine. This will send the plant’s energy directly to the fruit rather than to new vegetative growth.
Mulching: Use a hay or grass mulch to warm the soil, allowing you to start earlier and extend your growing season. Mulch will also conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. Keep ripening fruit that is growing on the ground off the soil using a brick or mulch.
Support: For small spaces, plants can be grown vertically using a trellis. Support the fruit using slings if growing this way. This method of growing is a definite hit when having friends over to the garden!
Deficiency(s): A potassium or phosphorus deficiency will cause slow growth and reduced yields.
Rotation: A 3- or 4-year rotation away from all plants in the cucumber family is recommended.
Companions: Grows well with corn and watermelon. You can leave a strip of rye cover crop between rows to serve as a wind block. Avoid potatoes.
Harvest: Vine-ripened melons will have the best and sweetest flavor and are usually ready in mid- to late-summer. Look for melons with yellow-green or tan skin, a fruity scent, and a small crack on the stem near where it attaches to the fruit. Vine tendrils will start to die and dry up when fruit is ready. Cut the fruit from the vine using a sharp knife. Don’t wait until the fruits detach themselves: at that point, they are probably overripe.
Storage: Store whole melons at room temperature for 5–7 days. Once cut, keep it in the refrigerator covered in plastic for 3–4 days.
History: This melon variety was developed by a Japanese grower living in California in the 1920s to sell at local markets.
Preserve: Canning cantaloupe jam or preserves will keep a bountiful harvest edible and delicious long-term.
Prepare: Usually eaten fresh, sliced, or in fruit salad. Cut melons and remove the seeds from the inner cavity before serving.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin C, beta carotene, and potassium. Also a good source of phytochemicals.
Medicinal: Traditionally used for cleansing body and skin. May be helpful for managing heart disease due to the anticoagulant it contains, and high blood pressure due to its potassium content. Researchers are also investigating cantaloupe for potential anti-cancer properties.
Add a splash of green to your summertime dinner with this Cantaloupe and Avocado Soup recipe.