Amend soil with aged manure or compost before planting. Growing the vines in raised rows, known as hills, ensures good drainage and will hold the sun’s heat longer.
If you are in a cooler zone, start seeds indoors about a month before transplanting. Cantaloupe vines are very tender and should not be transplanted until all danger of frost has passed.
If you live in warmer climes, you can direct sow seeds outdoors, but wait until the soil temperature warms to at least 65 degrees to avoid poor germination. Plant seeds one inch deep, 18 inches apart, in hills about 3 feet apart.
If you have limited space, vines can be trained to a support such as a trellis.
Mulching with black plastic will serve multiple purposes: it will warm the soil, hinder weed growth and keep developing fruits clean.
Fertilize when vines start growing.
Row covers are a good idea to keep pests at bay.
While melon plants are growing, blooming, and setting fruit, they need 1 to 2 inches of water per week. Water in the morning, and try to avoid wetting the leaves. Reduce watering once fruit are growing. Dry weather produces the sweetest melon.
If you’ve had an exceptional amount of rainfall during the ripening stage, this could cause the bland fruit.
Once fruit begins to grow, prune end buds off vines. Your plants may produce fewer melons, but they will be larger and of better quality.
Vines produce male and female flowers separately on the same plant. They often begin producing male flowers several weeks before the females appear. (Don’t be discouraged when the first blooms do not produce fruit.)
Blossoms require pollination to set fruit, so be kind to the bees!
When rinds begin to change from green to tan or yellow, the melon is probably ripe, but be careful not to pick too early.
Look for a crack in the stem where it attaches to the fruit. This is a sign of ripeness as well. The fruit should be easy to separate from the vine, but if they fall off by themselves they are usually overripe.
Harvest melon when vines are dry, and be careful not to damage them.
They will soften after harvesting, but will not continue to sweeten off the vine.
Cantaloupe can be stored uncut for 5 or 6 days. If cut, they can last in the refrigerator for about 3 days, wrapped tightly in plastic.
What's New and Beneficial About Cantaloupe
Because the flesh of the cantaloupe is often pastel-like in color (compared to the more vibrant color of fruits like oranges), we sometimes forget how important cantaloupe can be as a fruit source of vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids). Researchers have recently measured the carotenoid contents of six different California-grown cantaloupe hybrids and discovered that their beta-carotene content can reach levels as high as 3,138 micrograms (per 100 grams of fresh weight). That's about 30 times higher than the beta-carotene content of fresh oranges. Although this nutrient richness of cantaloupe still does not place it in the beta-carotene range for fresh carrots here (about 8,300 micrograms), it's still an aspect of this delicious fruit that is all-too-frequently overlooked.
At first, we were disappointed in the outcome of a recent French study that put cantaloupe at the very bottom of the fruits list in terms of its polyphenol content. In this French study, fruits like strawberries, lychees, and grapes came out far better in their concentration of antioxidant polyphenols than cantaloupe, and no fruit scored lower in its concentration of polyphenols. But then we read about the total amount of polyphenols that cantaloupe contributed to the average daily diet. When looked at in this practical context, cantaloupe ranked higher than many other commonly eaten fruits, including kiwi, grapefruit, and clementines. It also ranked higher than watermelon and pineapple. Obviously, the higher volume of cantaloupe consumed helped to offset its lower polyphenol concentration. This practical principle is important to remember. A health-supportive, whole food like fresh cantaloupe may show up as being lower in its concentration of certain nutrients (including total polyphenols), but because we often eat it in serving sizes that are relatively large, we often get substantial nutrient benefits, even in the case of nutrients found in lower concentrations.
Intake of cantaloupe has recently been found to lower risk of metabolic syndrome. In a study involving hundreds of women living and teaching in Tehran, Iran, the lowest risk of metabolic syndrome was found to occur in women who ate the greatest amount of fruit. (In this study, the "greatest amount" meant a minimum of 12 ounces per day.) Five fruits contributed most to total fruit intake: apples, grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon, and bananas. Women who consumed the largest amounts of these fruits were also determined to have the healthiest levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in their bloodstream. CRP is an indicator very commonly used to assess levels of inflammation, and it's very likely that the anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in cantaloupe and other fruits contributed not only to these participants' healthy levels of CRP but also to their decreased risk of metabolic syndrome.
We seldom think about fruits as providing a broad spectrum of nutrients. In addition, when this food group gets placed in the nutritional spotlight, it's usually berries that get first mention among the nutritional standouts. Yet judging from its nutrient profile, cantaloupe is a fruit that should get us thinking differently about fruit and nourishment. This member of the melon family receives 10 rankings in our food rating system—the same number as raspberries, 1 more than strawberries, and 6 more than blueberries. Cantaloupe scores an "excellent" for both vitamin C and vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids). It scores "very good" for potassium, and "good" for a host of B vitamins (B1, B3, B6, and folate) as well as vitamin K, magnesium, and fiber. When the edible seeds of the cantaloupe are eaten, this melon also provides a measurable about of omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid.
Cantaloupe contains more beta-carotene than alpha-carotene. But because it contains both of these carotenoids, it also contains both of their derivatives, including lutein in the case of alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin in the case of beta-carotene. These carotenoid phytonutrients are joined by the flavonoid luteolin, antioxidant organic acids including ferulic and caffeic acid, and anti-inflammatory cucurbitacins, including cucurbitacin B and cucurbitacin E. The nutrient diversity of cantaloupe is perhaps its most overlooked health benefit!
As evidenced by the preceding list of phytonutrients, cantaloupe's nutritional strong suit involves its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Even while it is relatively low in concentration of certain nutrients (like total polyphenols) in comparison to other fruits, cantaloupe still provides us with important amounts because we tend to eat it in larger serving sizes than other fruits.
Many researchers understand metabolic syndrome—a group of health problems that includes high blood fats, high blood sugars, high blood pressure, and too much body fat—to be caused by problems in lifestyle that result in chronic underlying levels of unwanted inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body. In this context, it's not surprising to see decreased risk of metabolic syndrome in individuals with especially high intake of cantaloupe (along with other fruits), since cantaloupe provides a wide range of antioxidants that help prevent oxidative stress and a wide range of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that help prevent excessive inflammation. It's also not surprising to see lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the bloodstream of persons who have particularly high intake of cantaloupe, since CRP is a marker widely used to assess levels of inflammation in the body. One final important note: in the study that documented these benefits of cantaloupe for prevention of metabolic syndrome, "high" intake meant at least 12 ounces of total fruit per day. Since cantaloupe was one of five fruits making a special contribution to these 12 ounces, we assume that few of the study participants would go one whole week without consuming cantaloupe. That approach might help all of us increase our protection from unwanted inflammation and oxidative stress.
Unfortunately, most of the other studies that we have seen on the health benefits of cantaloupe are studies conducted on animals rather than humans. This aspect of the research limits our certainty about the health benefits for humans. However, especially promising in the animal research has been studies related to diabetes. Researchers have shown that intake of cantaloupe phytonutrients can improve insulin and blood sugar metabolism. In addition, intake of cantaloupe extracts has been show to reduce oxidative stress in the kidneys of animals with diabetes, and to improve insulin resistance in diabetic animals.
Given the benefits of cantaloupe for prevention of metabolic syndrome, we would expect to see future studies showing clear health benefits for this melon in the area of heart disease, including atherosclerosis. Many heart-related problems start out with chronic unwanted inflammation and chronic oxidative stress. Hopefully, it won't be long before we have large-scale human studies documenting benefits in this important area.
The fruit widely known as "cantaloupe" throughout the U.S. is actually muskmelon. When we purchase "cantaloupe" in a U.S. grocery store, what we're used to seeing is an outer surface that consists of "netting"—an orderly mosaic pattern - that sits atop and covers the outermost skin (rind). We may or may not also see "ribbing" on the cantaloupe ("ribbing" in the sense of lines running from one end of the cantaloupe to the other, like the seams on a basketball). But if we do see ribbing, it is not usually very heavy or very deep., Melons with a very developed and orderly netting and only mild-to-moderate ribbing are not true cantaloupes but rather muskmelons (Cucumis melo var reticulatus).
Cantaloupes (Cucumis melo var cantalupensis) typically lack an extensive, orderly netting and they have ribs (also called "sutures") that are much heavier and more deeply grooved. In addition, true cantaloupes are grown almost exclusively in other parts of the world (and especially in the Mediterranean region). In fact, the name "cantaloupe" actually comes from the name of a town in Italy near Rome called Cantaloupo in Sabina, where seeds were brought from Armenia and planted in the Papal gardens during the 1400-1500's.) Despite this misnaming of "cantaloupes" in the U.S. marketplace however, from hereon we're going to stick with this common U.S. practice and refer to muskmelons as cantaloupes.
Cantaloupes are members of the cucurbit family of plants (Cucurbitaceae) that also includes cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes, gourds, and a long list of melons. Melons in this same plant family with cantaloupe include Watermelon and honeydew melon, along with crenshaw, casaba, Persian, and canary melon. Because many members of the cucurbit plant family can easily cross-pollinate, there are also many different hybrid melons in the marketplace that combine features of true cantaloupe with features of these other melons.
The ripe flesh of a cantaloupe can vary in color depending on the hybrid. "Jenny Linds" are one example of a green-fleshed hybrid; "Athena" and "Ambrosia" hybrids have salmon-colored flesh; and the flesh of the Gurney's (TM) hybrids typically has a rich orange color. Cantaloupes have a hollow cavity in their center that is filled with edible seeds. In some parts of the world, cantaloupes are known as "rockmelons."
If you read about cantaloupe across the Internet, you may find a good bit of inconsistency involving the language used to describe the parts of this fruit. Some websites use the words "top" and "bottom" when describing cantaloupes. Other websites use "stem end" and "blossom end." Still others use "vine end" and "end opposite the vine end." As such, we wanted to clarify this topic.
When a plant flowers, no fruit forms until pollination (either self pollination or preferably cross pollination). Once pollination has occurred, fruit can begin to form. As the fruit forms, the flower will fall away. The spot where the flower was will become one end of the fruit, and it is called the blossom end. The stem end, of course, will be the end where the fruit remains connected to the plant. If the fruit is an apple, its weight and relationship to the tree branch will typically cause it to hang down from the branch, creating two ends that are truly "top" and "bottom."
But with a fruit like a cantaloupe which sits on the ground, the vine will typically lie alongside of the fruit in such a way that the ends would be more logically described as being on the sides of the cantaloupe, rather on its top and its bottom. Still, the word "top" is sometimes used to refer to the stem end of a cantaloupe, and the word "bottom" is sometimes used to refer to the blossom end.
Historians aren't certain about the exact origins of cantaloupe. The large number of melon family members (Cucumis melo) growing wild in Africa has led some investigators to place cantaloupe's origins on that continent. But African melons may themselves have had ancestors in parts of Asia, including India or China.
Countries in the northernmost part of Africa lie along the south shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and cantaloupe was also enjoyed by people living in the Mediterranean and Middle East region fairly early on in its history. To this day, and on an annual basis, Turkey (3.5 billion pounds), Iran (2.9 billion pounds), and Egypt (2.4 billion pounds) remain major producers of cantaloupe. (The United States follows after Egypt with 2.2 billion pounds of production.) But in first place - and far ahead of these four countries - is China, a country that now produces half of the world's melons (including cantaloupe) at a volume of nearly 25 billion pounds per year.
Attesting to the worldwide popularity of cantaloupe (and melons in general) is the practice of drying cantaloupe seeds for consumption as a snack food. This tradition can be seen in many parts of Central and South America, as well as in Asia and the Middle East.
Within the U.S., California is the largest cantaloupe-producing state and grows over half of all U.S. cantaloupe. Rounding out the top six cantaloupe-producing states are Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas.
Within California, the bulk of cantaloupe production occurs in one of two regions: the San Joaquin Valley of Central California and the Imperial Valley (in the more desert-like southeastern part of the state). In Imperial Valley, spring season melon planting can begin as early as January, allowing for harvest in May, and fall season planting can take place in July, allowing for harvest in October and November.
Despite its own robust cultivation of cantaloupe, the U.S. continues to import cantaloupe in large amounts. In 2010, the U.S. purchased over 425 million pounds of cantaloupe from Guatemala, nearly 300 million from Honduras, over 150 million from Costa Rica, and more than 60 million from Mexico.
The key to purchasing a good quality melon is to find one that is ripe, which is sometimes a challenge because oftentimes they are picked while still unripe in order to ensure that they make it through the shipping process undamaged. There are many clues that you can look for to find a melon that is ripe. The first is by simply picking it up and feeling its weight. Does it feel fuller and heavier than you would expect it to? If so, that's a good thing, because it's an indication of the cantaloupe's ripeness.
Next, tap on the cantaloupe and listen to the sound it makes. If the sound is dull and also deep, that's another indication that you're holding a ripe cantaloupe. But if the sound is higher and hollow, your cantaloupe is probably not ripe.
If you press gently on the top of a ripe cantaloupe (the stem end, where the vine was attached) with your thumb, you should feel it give way very slightly. If that spot gives way substantially, to the point of feeling genuinely soft or even squishy, the cantaloupe is probably overripe. A quick check around different areas of the cantaloupe is also a good idea at this point so you can make sure that there is no bruising or damage.
The appearance of a ripe versus unripe cantaloupe is also different. The rind of a ripe cantaloupe (meaning the outermost layer beneath the netting) is typically going to be cream-colored or yellow or golden but not green or gray. The rind of an unripe cantaloupe is more likely to contain some green or gray. (Don't rely too heavily on this ripeness indicator, however, since some varieties of cantaloupe have rinds that stay green or gray.)
Smelling the bottom of the cantaloupe (also called the blossom end, opposite from the stem end where the vine was attached) can also be helpful in determining its ripeness. Unripe cantaloupes are likely to have a very faint smell, or no smell at all. Ripe cantaloupes are likely to have that spectacular cantaloupe aroma—but not in an overpowering way. If the fragrance is overly strong, the cantaloupe may be overripe.
Once you've found a cantaloupe that gives every indication of being optimally ripe, your next decisions will involve storage. When you get home, place your optimally ripe cantaloupe immediately in the refrigerator, ideally in a crisper bin where there is usually slightly higher humidity. The temperature range of 36-41F (2.2-5C) is best for storing whole ripe cantaloupe. About three to four days is the maximum amount of time that you'll want to store whole ripe cantaloupe under these refrigerator conditions. If you decide to purchase an unripe cantaloupe, it's okay to leave it out at room temperature (non-refrigerated) for a couple of days to allow the texture of its flesh to become softer and juicier. However, it is very important to note that cantaloupe can be left at room temperature only if it is whole, intact, and not yet to the stage of full ripeness. Once the cantaloupe has reached its peak ripeness, refrigeration is mandatory. Regardless of whether a cantaloupe is ripe or unripe, it should not be washed as long as it remains whole and uncut. No matter how well you pat a cantaloupe dry after washing it, the surface of the cantaloupe will absorb moisture during washing and there will be added moisture on the surface of the cantaloupe. This added moisture will increase the likelihood of mold formation and decrease the cantaloupe's shelf life. If you wait and wash your whole cantaloupe just prior to cutting, you'll be consuming the cantaloupe and will therefore not have to worry about shelf life or risk of mold formation.
When the time comes for you to slice open your cantaloupe, it's important for you to be equally careful about this process. Risk of bacterial contamination in cut cantaloupe is significant and public health organizations stress the importance of safe handling practices. Be sure to wash your hands and all utensils before and after cutting cantaloupe. We recommend that you rinse a whole cantaloupe under cool running water, gently scrub the rind with a natural bristle brush, and then pat dry before you slice it open. This rinsing process with help remove unwanted bacterial contamination. Next, place the whole cantaloupe on a clean cutting surface. Cut off the top (stem end, where the vine was attached) of the cantaloupe and discard. (Research shows that bacterial contamination is more likely to occur in this spot.) Next, scoop out the seeds and slice your cantaloupe in whatever size sections you like. Since the rind is not going to be eaten, we also recommend that you cut it off at this time.
Public health organizations do make allowances for cut cantaloupe to be kept at room temperature for a very short period of time, and we recommend that you limit this time period to two hours. Cut cantaloupe left sitting at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded. The risks here involve contamination by one of several micro-organisms, including Salmonella, Listeria, or E. coli 0157:H7. To widen the safety margin for cantaloupe even further, we recommend that you actually avoid leaving cut cantaloupe at room temperature for any period of time, and keep all cut cantaloupe in the refrigerator.
After scooping out the cantaloupe seeds, you can use them to make a great snack food. Place the seeds in a fine mesh wire strainer and rinse under cool running water while gently pressing the seeds against the mesh to help remove the pulpy fibers. Once the seeds have been thoroughly cleaned, let the water completely drain and gently shake the strainer to help the seeds dry. Next, place the seeds in a single layer on a cookie sheet and lightly roast them at 160-170°F (about 75°C) in the oven for 15-20 minutes. By roasting them for a relatively short time at a low temperature you can help minimize damage to their healthy oils.