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October 17, 2017  |  Login
Melon
By Jeff Cox
 

CUCUMIS MELO AND CITRULLUS LANATUS

It took me years to figure out how to grow really sweet melons. The secret was to keep the vines up off the ground, in full sun, and give them a gentle sulfur spray after each rain—all organic methods designed to keep the leaves free of mildew.

The leaves of melons are the sugar factories, and melons are particularly susceptible to molds and mildews that shut down the leaves’ ability to manufacture sugar. With their sugar factories shut down, the melons, where the sugar is stored, don’t get sweet.


The ORGANIC FACTOR

In California’s warm, dry summer climate, melons are less prone to develop mildewed leaves, and so the state produces most of the commercial melons shipped around the United States. Sulfur spray is the chief way melon farmers—both conventional and organic—prevent mildew. However, 1,3-dichloropropene is used by conventional melon farmers to combat nematodes, which are tiny worms that attack plant roots. Animal studies show that this chemical is a carcinogen and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it anticipates that it is a human carcinogen as well. In addition, it can adversely affect the health of farm workers. This is reason enough to search out organic melons, but there are other reasons besides safety.

Organic growers serving local markets are more likely to plant the best-tasting types of melons because they don’t have to worry about shipping ability like big conventional growers, who ship across the country. Proximity to market means they can let those melons ripen on their vines. In addition, melons are heavy feeders and rich, or-ganic soil supplies a panoply of nutrients. Such soil holds water like a sponge, keeping the wilt-prone melons supplied with plenty of water. All these factors contribute to the luscious flavor of well-grown organic melons.

NUTRITION

None of the melons is very high in nutrients, since most are mainly water. But more nutritious varieties of melons are being developed. The darker orange-fleshed melons are higher in beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, than green- or white-fleshed types.

TYPES

We usually lump cantaloupes, musk­melons, honeydews, canary, Crenshaw, and watermelons under the heading of melon, but it pays to be a little more categorical. The first five melons in that list are all Cucumis melo, while watermelons are Citrullus lanatus, another genus and species.

Cantaloupes (named after the town of Cantalupo near Rome) are generally considered to be the best-tasting melons. Most of the melons that supermarkets label as cantaloupes, however, are actually muskmelons. A true cantaloupe is about the size of a baseball, with a gray-green, hard rind with some bumps or scales, but no netting. Although they have been hard to find in the United States, organic specialty farmers are growing more of them in recent years. A variety called Charentais is the best known, and in France, they serve a particularly ambrosial dish of half a Charentais with a splash of sweet dessert wine, such as a Barsac, in its empty seed cavity (see recipe Charentais Melon Cockaigne, page 279, for a version of this). To be picked vine-ripe, they’re cut from the vine when the rind color half-changes from gray-green to buff, so look for that buff color when choosing them. Also, give the blossom end a whiff. It should have a faint aroma of melon.  ....read more

 
 

 

 
 
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