Home gardening basics: How to grow and harvest cantaloupe
09/03/2021 / By Joanne Washburn / Comments
Home gardening basics: How to grow and harvest cantaloupe

A sweet, juicy slice of cantaloupe can be refreshing on a hot day. If you have a home garden or a bit of extra space in your backyard, why not grow your own cantaloupes to save money instead of buying them from the store?

Most cantaloupe varieties take anywhere between 65 to 90 days to mature. But each plant can produce around four to eight delicious fruits. Although other members of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family can be quite difficult to care for, cantaloupes are relatively easy to grow.

Read on to learn more about cantaloupes and how to grow them.

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What’s so great about cantaloupes?

Cantaloupes are about 90 percent water. But just because they are doesn’t mean that they lack nutritional value. On the contrary, cantaloupes are bursting with nutrients. For one, they are a good source of the mineral potassium, which helps your blood vessels relax for better circulation and lower blood pressure.

Cantaloupes are also rich in beta-carotene, a type of carotenoid. Carotenoids are plant pigments that give certain fruits and vegetables their bright orange colors. Once consumed, beta-carotene is either transformed into vitamin A or acts as a powerful antioxidant to protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Gram for gram, cantaloupes have more beta-carotene than apricots, oranges and mangoes. Cantaloupes are also loaded with vitamin C, which is best known for boosting the immune system. Vitamin C also helps your body produce collagen, a structural protein found in your skin, hair, nails, bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage and more. One cup of cantaloupes contains more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin C needs.

Additionally, cantaloupes are low in calories and rich in fiber, a combination that can help you lose weight.

How to grow cantaloupe

Here’s a step-by-step guide on growing cantaloupes:

1. Start seeds indoors

Cantaloupes can be grown from seeds or seedlings. If using seeds, it’s best to start them indoors four to six weeks before your last expected frost date. This gives the seeds time to develop a strong root system.

Take note that cantaloupe plants are extremely tender. Therefore, they shouldn’t be planted on the ground until all likelihood of frost is gone.

There are various cantaloupe varieties you can try. Some are easier to grow than others. These include:

  • Hales Best Jumbo
  • Minnesota Midget
  • Bush Star
  • Ambrosia

2. Prep the soil

Before transplanting your seedlings outdoors, it’s crucial to prep your soil correctly. As a rule, cantaloupe likes loamy, loose and well-draining soil. If your soil needs enriching, try adding aged organic compost.

Once you’ve prepped the soil, it’s time to plant. Plant the seedlings in small rows of mounds so that the maturing vines will have adequate drainage. Once transplanted outdoors, your seedlings will need one to two inches of water per week. Water them in the morning and avoid wetting the leaves themselves.

3. Train them to grow upwards

Cantaloupe plants will grow vines, which can quickly take over your whole garden. This is why many gardeners choose to “train” their cantaloupe plants to grow up a trellis or a tomato cage. This allows them to maximize their growing area without fear of the cantaloupe plants becoming invasive.

The key to successfully training your cantaloupe plants to climb is to start training them as soon as their vines have a bit of length. Check the vines every day to make sure none are crawling across your garden.

4. Apply fertilizer

Cantaloupe plants are heavy feeders, which means they require a lot of nutrients to thrive. When fertilizing your plants, it’s best to wait until the plant is at least four inches tall.

Sprinkle organic fertilizer or aged compost around the plant, not directly onto the plant itself.

5. Prune your cantaloupe

When planting cantaloupes, keep in mind that the more leaves are on the vine, the sweeter the fruit will be. However, you should still prune your cantaloupe plants. Pruning the plant’s smaller vines tells the plant to focus on creating larger, sweeter fruits, not on creating multiple fruits.

To correctly prune your plant, prune the vines growing from the main stem. Make sure the cuts are about a quarter of an inch away from the main vine to not cause the main vine any damage.

Once you notice fruits forming, remove all but one cantaloupe from each vine. Check the vines regularly for new growths.

6. Protect your cantaloupe from pests

Aphids and cucumber beetles love cantaloupes. One way you can keep these pests away naturally is by pruning nearby plants that create shady conditions for pests.

However, you shouldn’t have a problem with pests if your cantaloupe plants are healthy. Healthy, “unstressed” plants have a greater capacity to avoid and overcome infestations than unhealthy, stressed ones.

7. Harvest only when ripe

Unlike other fruits, cantaloupes don’t continue to ripen once they’re picked from the vine. Therefore, you must harvest them only when they are fully ripe. Otherwise, you’ll end up with hard, bland fruits.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t wait too long to harvest them. Otherwise, you’ll be left with fruits that are too soft and watery.

The first sign that a cantaloupe is getting ripe is the color under the netting of the fruit. It should change from green to tan or yellowish-gray. A ripe cantaloupe also has a pleasantly sweet aroma.

On a ripe cantaloupe, the spot at the top of the fruit where it attaches to the vine should rise off the fruit slightly. The vine should also separate easily from the melon.

Cantaloupes are a nutritious superfood you can grow in your home garden. Follow the tips above to get started.

Sources:

TheHomesteadingHippy.com

Healthline.com

HomeGuides.SFGate.com

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