It has been an exciting gardening year here. After putting up new fencing and expanding the garden last fall, I was able to grow some vegetables I haven’t grown in a while, as well as try some new varieties. For me trying new things is part of the fun of gardening. And one thing that I was really looking forward to growing was cantaloupe. Actually they are more properly called muskmelons, but most people refer to them as cantaloupe – me included!
At my old place, I used to grow a lot of cantaloupe and watermelon. The soil may not have been the greatest for growing melons, but I had plenty of room and lots of energy to plant a huge garden. These days I seem to have considerably less energy, and thankfully the garden is a big smaller, though still plenty big enough to keep me busy. But we have a nice silty loam soil here that should be great for growing cantaloupes, and both me and my wife love eating them. So I started some seedlings this year and set out plants near the edge of the garden, after enriching the planting hole with some compost and slow release organic fertilizer.
My plan this year was to plant the vining things like winter squash and melons around the edge of the garden, where they could take advantage of the sturdy metal fence for support. I had grown winter squash that way before, and it worked out well. But somehow, it never occurred to me that might not be a good idea for the cantaloupe. I had forgotten that most cantaloupes slip right off the vine when they are ripe. Which means, if they are hanging up off the ground and left unsupported, they will fall to the ground and split open just as they ripen. Talk about a big uh-oh! Winter squash usually hangs on to the vine quite nicely as it matures, but not cantaloupe.
I thought perhaps I could keep the cantaloupe vines on the ground, but they found the fence and were vining up it before I even realized it. They also latched on to a nearby tomato cage that hadn’t been needed for the tomatoes. That meant I had to support the cantaloupes before they started ripening. Fortunately there are several different ways to do this, and I tried two this year. First I ripped up an old t-shirt and used it to make a sling for the young cantaloupe. The idea is to give the fruit enough support that it won’t fall to the ground when it’s ripe and slips off the vine.
That worked, but I found it was hard to get the shirt tied up to the fencing. So I decided to try the popular method of using nylon hose. Not having any of my own, my wife came to the rescue, and donated some old nylon hosiery for me to use. An article from Texas Gardener explains how to do it.
The trick is to make an expandable sling for the fruit that supports it, while keeping it or the vines from falling down under the weight of the expanding and ripening melon. I cut the hose in pieces about a foot long, then slit them from one end to the other. That made a nice expandable nylon support for the fruit that was easy to tie up to the metal support.
Time will tell if the supports do the trick, but if I tied them securely they should hold on. The first melons I harvested were growing on the ground, and didn’t need any support. We also have quite a few winter squashes that are using the fence for support. Barring any injury or other unusual incident, they should do just fine without additional support.
Gardening is always an adventure for me, and this year the cantaloupes provided a little drama as well. Will they hold on? Or will they ‘split’ when the t-shirt or hose gives way and the fruit crashes to the ground? Stay tuned to see how this story ends. Hopefully these melons will end up on a plate. Now that will be a real happy ending!