Nothing says summer better than a sweet, juicy melonand the South's long, warm growing season gives melons the time they need to develop their sweetest flavor. Known botan- ically as Cucumis melo, they probably originated in India. This entry covers cantaloupes (with orange flesh) and honeydews (with green flesh) and includes a list of selections recommended for the South. For information on watermelons, see Watermelon.
Recommended cantaloupe selections for the South include 'Ambrosia' (86 days to maturity), 'Athena' (75 days), 'Burpee Hybrid' (82 days), 'Delicious 51' (77 days), 'Edisto 47' (86 days), 'Hale's Best' (86 days), 'Park's Whopper' (77 days), 'Sarah's Choice' (76 days), 'Saticoy' (90 days), 'Super 45' (80 days), and 'Sweet & Early' (75 days). Recommended honeydews include 'Earli-Dew Hybrid' (80 days), 'Honeymoon Hybrid' (90 days), 'Jenny Lind' (80 days), and 'Sweet Delight' (82 days).
Melons should be planted after all danger of frost is past, and only in warm soil; seeds will rot in cold soil. Before planting, work 12 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 10 ft. of row into the soil. Melons are usually planted in hills spaced 34 ft. apart. Sow four to six seeds per hill, planting them 121 in. deep; thin seedlings to the most vigorous one or two per hill. To space out the harvest, make two or three plantings 2 weeks apart; or plant selections with different maturity dates.
When vines begin to run, apply 14 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 10 ft. of row (or per hill) and water it in. Keep the soil moist throughout the growing season, but reduce watering as harvest approaches (too much water during the week or so before harvest can make the fruit less sweet).
Poor fruit set or misshapen fruit may be caused by poor pollination. Remove deformed melons from the vine to allow normal fruit to form. Some melons may shrivel instead of developing fully; this is a normal process by which the vine sheds fruit it cannot support.
It takes some practice to be able to tell when melons are ready to harvest. Fruit picked too early will not ripen further. To test cantaloupes, sniff the stem end for characteristic aroma, look for pronounced netting of the skin and a change in color from green or yellow to tan, and check for a crack between stem and fruit. This is called the full slip stage and is the ideal time to harvest; partial slip is also common. To test honeydews, look for a slightly soft or springy blossom end and a change in skin color from green to ivory or greenish white, depending on the selection. Typically these melons do not have a full slip stage.
Sometimes diseases such as bacterial wild, powdery mildew, downy mildew, and gummy stem blight will plague melons. You can avoid problems by planting disease-resistant selections that resist one or more infections. Try 'Athena', 'Edisto 47', 'Hale's Best', 'Honeymoon Hybrid', and 'Sarah's Choice'. It's also best not to wet the foliage when you water to avoid spreading or incubating fungal diseases.