A Cornucopia of Cantaloupes (cont)
By: Susan Littlefield
Getting the chance to eat a perfectly vine-ripened cantaloupe is, of course, the reason for growing your own. So when is it ready? When the rind under the netting changes from green to tan and the netting itself becomes more pronounced, lift up the melon and pull gently on the stem. If it starts to "slip" or separate from the fruit, it is ready to pick. It should also have a nice aroma and the blossom end should have a little give. Cantaloupes will continue to ripen off the vine.
Smooth-skinned melons like honeydew don't have a stem that slips when ripe, so you'll need to rely more on the fragrance of the fruit. Also, the rind of a ripe honeydew has a smoother, waxier feel than an unripe one. Honeydews will not ripen further after they are picked. The rind of orange-fleshed honeydews turns a pale shade of orange when ripe. The delicious Charentais melon will become very aromatic and its rind will lose its grayish cast and become a warmer yellow when it's at its eating prime.
Question of the Month: Melon Flowers Falling Off
Q. Some of the flowers on my melon vine bloom, then fall off without forming fruits. Why?
A. Melon plants and all members of the cucurbit family (melons, squash and cucumbers) produce both male and female flowers. The male flowers bloom on the end of a long stalk. The female flower isn't on a stalk; instead it's attached to a swelling that looks like a small fruit. After the female flower receives pollen from a male flower, this swelling grows into a full-sized fruit. The male flower eventually withers and falls off. So what you may be noticing is simply the spent male blossoms being shed. Often the male flowers start to bloom first, but eventually female flowers will be produced as well so pollination can occur.
If both male and female flowers are falling off and no fruit is forming, it may be that something is interfering with pollination. If the weather is cool and rainy, bees may not be active. If you spray insecticide when bees are flying, you may be harming your needed pollinators. If you do need to spray plants, do so in the evening when the bees are not flying.
If all else fails, you can play "bee" yourself. Before noon on the morning that a male flower first opens, pick it and remove the petals to reveal the stamens containing the yellow pollen. Find a female flower and brush the pollen-bearing stamens around inside it. You can fertilize 2 or 3 female flowers with one male blossom.