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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

The King of Sweet Melons

by Charlie Nardozzi

Muskmelons are the most popular type of melons grown and eaten in the United States. Most of us call them cantaloupes, but those round, sweet, mostly orange-fleshed melons that we find in supermarkets are actually not cantaloupes at all, they are technically muskmelons. What's the difference?

Although both types of melons are in the Cucurbitaceae family, cantaloupes are actually a small, warty tropical melon seldom found in U.S. markets. While other types of melons, such as honeydew, casaba and charentais, are becoming more popular in specialty farmers' stands and markets, the muskmelon is still the king of the sweet melons.

The key to producing great melons is choosing the right varieties and growing them well. Here are some of the best muskmelon varieties to plant in your garden and some tips on proper growing techniques.

Great Muskmelon Varieties

'Earli Star Hybrid' - This 2- to 3-pound, early variety features sweet, dark salmon-colored flesh. The plants are tolerant of powdery mildew disease.

'Hale's Best #36' - A standard muskmelon variety with early, 2- to 3-pound fruits with spicy salmon-colored flesh. A more powdery-mildew resistant version is 'Mildew-Resistant #45'.

'Rocky Ford' - This late melon features 5-inch-diameter fruits with a sweet, spicy, green flesh.

'Sugar Queen Hybrid' - This large plant produces huge, 6- to 10-pound fruits with weet orange flesh.

'Super 45 Hybrid' - This 3-pound, heavily netted variety has thick, sweet, salmon-colored flesh. The fruits resist cracking and have a good shelf life.

'Superstar Hybrid' - These large, 6- to 8-pound, heavily netted fruits are sweet and flavorful.

'Tekos Hybrid' - This variety is very productive, with 3- to 4-pound fruits early in the season.

Muskmelon Growing Tips

Muskmelons are a warm-season crop that loves the heat and moisture. Don't plant them before the soil temperatures are at least 60 degrees F. In northern and cool climates, build raised beds on all but sandy soils. Amend the soil with compost. Lay dark green or black plastic mulch over the beds two weeks before planting to heat up the soil.

Make holes in the plastic 2 feet apart in rows 2 feet apart, and place 3 seeds or one transplant per hole. Once the seeds have germinated, thin them to leave the strongest seedling. Early in the season, cover seedlings with a floating row cover to protect young plants from cold nights and winds. Once the vines begin to run, side-dress with an all-purpose fertilizer and remove the row covers to let bees pollinate the flowers. If fruits don't form or rot before getting large, they may not have been properly pollinated. Plant flowers and herbs around the melons to attract more bees to your patch to insure proper pollination.

Keep plants well watered and weeded. When the melons have sized up and started changing color, reduce watering. Too much watering around harvest time can reduce the sweetness of the fruits. Harvest when the melons naturally off the vine when gently lifted.

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