A Cornucopia of Cantaloupes (cont)
By: Susan Littlefield
Caring for Your Cantaloupes
As soon as you put seeds or plants in the ground, cover the bed with a floating row cover. This will keep out many of the most troublesome insect pests, such as cucumber beetles, while the plants are young. You'll need to remove the cover when the first female blossoms appear so that the pollinating bees can get in and do their work. If the melon flowers don't get pollinated, no melons will form. One way to increase your chances of good pollination is to plant some herbs with blossoms that attract bees nearby. Mints, thyme, borage and lavender are all good bee plants.
Melons are heavy feeders. Sidedress with a balanced fertilizer just as the vines begin to run (when they are about 12-18 inches long). Consistent watering will give you the best melon crop. But for the sweetest melons, hold back on water for a week or so before you start harvesting.
Cucumber beetles are found throughout the country. These 1/4-inch long, yellow-green and black, spotted or striped beetles chew holes in the leaves, stems and leaf stalks of melons, while their larvae feed on roots in the soil. In addition to their direct damage, these insects can transmit two diseases, bacterial blight and mosaic virus, to the plants as they feed on them. As mentioned before, putting a floating row cover over the bed until flowering will keep plants beetle-free for a while. Once the covers have been removed, pyrethrin sprays can help control the adult beetles.
Bacterial wilt, the disease carried by cucumber beetles, starts with leaves that wilt during the day, but recover at night. Eventually, the leaves wilt for good and die. If you cut a wilted stem near the base of the plant and squeeze the stem, you'll see a milky white sap that strings out in a thread if you touch the point of a knife to it and draw it out. There is no control for this disease, which is why it is so important to control the beetles that spread it. Remove and destroy any infected plants to reduce the chances of spreading this disease to uninfected plants.
The fungal disease anthracnose is a problem in the eastern half of the country. It causes yellow, water-soaked spots on the melon leaves that rapidly enlarge and turn brown and dry. The dead tissue falls out, leaving ragged holes. Fruits may also be infected with brown, sunken spots. This disease is most prevalent when the weather is warm and humid. Powdery mildew causes the upper surfaces of the leaves to be covered with powdery white fungal growths; the leaves then turn brown and dry. Leaves affected with downy mildew turn yellow and have hairy white, purple or black fungal growths on the leaf undersides. Warm, wet weather favors downy mildew; powdery mildew can be a problem in both dry and humid weather.
Choose varieties that are resistant to these diseases, especially in warmer parts of the country, clean up all plant debris well at the end of the growing season and rotate crops, with 2 years between any melons, squash or cucumbers, to minimize problems. Fungicides may also be used at the first sign of anthracnose or mildew; contact your local Cooperative Extension office for fungicide recommendations and read and follow all label instructions and precautions.