Friday, September 3, 2010
Next June will see our foray into melon growing. We will use some ground next to the orchard that is very sandy. We will most likely have to irrigate with t-tape instead of using furrows in the ground as is usually done because of the small amount of water that will be available to us. This summer, I planted three varietals that I am interested in to see how they respond to our climate, soil type, drainage, pests. My experiments have taught me what I need to know to grow them, but I still need to find out what they all taste like- and if people like you will buy them.
Melon subject # 1: Chanterais
A small french melon, called a true cantaloupe (American cantaloupe is more properly called a muskmelon) this melon is usually 1-2 lbs in size and has stripes radiating out from the blossom end. It goes rapidly from green to ripe. When I came out into the garden one afternoon, after checking on them the previous morning, I was struck by this intensely sweet, almost over powering musk from 15 feet away. I took one look under the leaves and three melons had turned a yellowish orange color. I promptly brought them in the house and opened one up. I was struck immediately by the fact that it may not have been completely ripe yet. The flesh still had a slight crunch to it. The scent, though! A store bought cantaloupe would be almost to the rotten point if the smell was so sweet. We waited a few more days then opened up the other one. By this point, small bruises had started to appear and the outside rind was beginning to get soft. It was perfect- juicy, sweet, deliciously melting flesh, with the unique musky aroma of this particular variety.
Needs very sandy soil, but can't take long periods of drought (longer than 4 days). Very susceptible to melon aphid infestation. Probably needs reflective mulch.
Bruises easily. Needs special packaging and probably has a short shelf life. Small size, recognition limited to foodies.
Melon subject #2: Yellow Canary Melon
Another heirloom, but much more common, this melon is football shaped and is a bright lemon color. Lighter yellow to light green inside, this is often the third melon you see in specialty stores, next to the watermelon and cantaloupe. It is more like a honeydew melon, which is not a personal favorite of mine, but many people love them. Supposedly it also stores very well, which I can understand, as the rind is similar to watermelon- not much like a soft honeydew melon.
Susceptible to early blight and of course, aphids. None of any of these melons got white fly however, which I thought interesting. Also very prolific giver, usually 4-5 melons from each plant, and my plants are close together and not receiving optimum fertilization. (All my melons got one dose of compost before planting and nothing more.)
Taste is not as interesting, doesn't fill that cold cantaloupe craving you get on a hot day. Odd shape may make packing more of an issue. More common, price may not be as high.
Melon subject #3: Moon and Stars Melon
An heirloom watermelon, thought extinct, rediscovered in Missouri. Also called Cherokee Moon & Stars. This melon grows to a medium size (much larger than personal, smaller than standard) and has a dark green rind with lovely golden dots. The leaves are also variegated with small light colored dots. Very sweet lighter pink flesh with a serious crunch. This melon also happens to have a spot on the Slow Food Ark of Taste.
None really. Thrives in the heat, the vines seem insect resistant and the melons have a hard enough rind to keep pests and rot away.
Drawbacks: Like the chanterais, lack of recognition. But the exotic coloring and delicate taste should bring people back for more.
Melon subject #4 Prescott Fond Blanc
This one is my favorite! Not only does it look super cool, but it's tasty just like a nice sweet cantaloupe. This is my first time growing this, and I definitely enjoyed watching these wrinkly green turban shaped melons swell in the sun. The plant is vigorous, with larger, greener leaves than my other melon varieties. It looks very squash-like when growing and could easily be mistaken for a hubbard squash when young. Unfortunately out of every cucurbit I grew, this one needed the most pampering. Every week it was something else. Too wet, too dry. The vines were blocking the light needed for the squash to develop. And then the pests just loved it. Aphids, cutworm, cucumber beetle...
...and Rosie! Anthony came to the back door one day with half a Prescott in his hand. "Either we have raccoons and we don't know it, or our dog eats cantaloupe."
She eats cantaloupe... only the best, though. The flesh on this is not as decadent as the Chanterais, to me, it's more refreshing. Something you'd have with breakfast rather than as a sexy dessert or appertif.
More tinkering to get the amount of irrigation right. Definitely will need reflective mulch. If you're not familiar with how this works, there is a nice description of the science behind reflective surfaces and organic pest control here.
Very unfamiliar looking melon. If sold in a store, a sign would need to be placed notifying customers what it is- otherwise it may get bypassed as a winter squash or even a gourd! Somewhat larger seed cavity than a standard cantaloupe.
So what do you think? This is a close as I can get to a poll. Which varieties should we grow next June? Where should we take them? Who wants them? We'll be getting a booth at the Fresno Vineyard farmer's market (fingers crossed) soon, so you can see us there. Or, help us find somewhere to sell them in your neighborhood. We are planning 5 acres.... that's a lot of melon. Talking about thousands of melons. Even discounting the ones the gophers get.