Is It a Cantaloup or a Muskmelon?

It all started at the store where a sign for cantaloup was clearly incorrect—the melon in question was definitely a muskmelon—a honeydew to be exact. A little later, I was looking through the larder and saw one of the jars of pickled cantaloup Rebecca had canned for me. Then, someone else talked with me about melons in e-mail. So, I thought it was a sign that I should talk a bit about the difference between cantaloup and muskmelon.

A cantaloup is actually a kind of muskmelon, but not all muskmelons are cantaloupes. It turns out that there are actually two kinds of cantaloup, but the kind you most likely see in the store is a North American Cantaloup (Cucumis melo reticulatus). There is also a European Cantaloup (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) that looks nothing like the cantaloup Americans are used to seeing in the store (Europeans appear to be equally confused about the American variety). In fact, you can find arguments that the European variety is the only true cantaloup. I’ll leave such discussions to those who want to buck the rest of the growing community. In my mind, they’re both types of cantaloupes.

The number of muskmelon varieties is huge. However, some of the most common types are: honeydew, crenshaw, and casaba. All of them have some characteristics in common, such as the strong musky scent when ripe and a plethora of seeds in the center. However, they also have significant differences that include the skin color and texture of the fruit. Personally, I enjoy all of the muskmelon varieties and look forward to growing at least one or two of them each summer.

The flavor, odor, and sugar content of all muskmelons is greatly affected by environment. In fact, two muskmelons growing on the same vine can have different tastes simply because one of the muskmelons gets to drink from the vine first. Too much water tends to make the muskmelon less tasty because the sugars become diluted—too little tends to reduce the melon size and it may not mature at all.

Some gardeners are also unaware that muskmelons rely on gender-specific flowers: male and female to produce fruit. Hot weather tends to produce a significant number of male flowers. When a vine has all male flowers, it won’t produce any fruit at all. Unfortunately, I don’t have any sort of guideline to offer you as to detecting whether a flower is male or female, but I do know that high temperatures tend to produce vines with lots of flowers and no fruit. When the temperatures are too low, the fruit tends to rot, rather than ripen.

Muskmelons also require mulching. If the fruit directly touches the ground, it won’t mature. They also need a constant level of moisture that only mulch can provide. In short, muskmelons are picky fruit to grow and you can’t always be assured of a high quality output.

So, the next time someone asks whether a fruit is a cantaloup or a muskmelon, you can answer with a bit more authority. You can also get the sign for the mislabeled honeydew fixed in your store. Let me know your thoughts about cantaloupes and muskmelons at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Dealing with Timing Issues in the Garden

Timing can be everything when it comes to food. This summer we’re experiencing a number of timing issues, just as we do every other summer. The first timing issue is getting too much food to process at one time. We finally had success growing cantaloupe this summer and had planned for the fruit to grow at a rate that would allow us to harvest a little cantaloupe at a time. The squash vine borers that killed all three of our cantaloupe vines had a different idea. At first I thought that the cantaloupe was a complete loss because the cantaloupes weren’t full sized. However, after waiting for a while, we found that the cantaloupes ripened just fine on the vines—they’re just a little small. Unfortunately, they all ripened at the same time. We saved some for eating now, but Rebecca is busy pickling the rest so we can eat them during the winter. The point is that when you get an overflow of items, try to find a way to quickly preserve them of later use.

Before I get a number of e-mails about potentially swapping the cantaloupes with other people, the cantaloupes were indeed small and not quite as flavorful as we would have liked. Pickling them made up for these deficiencies. I only trade high quality items with other people because I expect them to do the same for me.

There are pesticides I could have used to prevent this problem, but Rebecca and I don’t believe in using pesticides except as an absolute last choice. In this case, we would have had to preemptively applied the pesticide in order to prevent the damage (one day the plants were fine, the next they were dead). We won’t do that because of the potential damage to the pollinators and the contamination of the food.

Meanwhile, some people have given up on their tomatoes this year because they simply didn’t want to grow in the combination of high heat and lack of water. With the short rainstorms we’ve had, the addition of lightning, and some good irrigation, our tomatoes are finally taking off. Yes, we’ll get the tomatoes late in the season, but the weather service is predicting a warm fall, so the choice to keep our tomatoes turned out to be a good one. Sometimes you have to be patient and wait for the right conditions to happen for your plants. Unfortunately, it appears that a number of other items are also going to ripen late, so I foresee having to juggle more than the usual number of late season processing needs this year. In fact, we may have to ask for a little neighborly help to make everything work out right.

Our okra is producing slowly, but consistently this year. In fact, I think this will turn out to be one of the best years we’ve ever had. However, the slow intake of okra is causing us some problems because we had decided to pickle some of our okra this year and there isn’t enough okra at any given time to pickle. The solution for this problem is to gather the okra each day and freeze it. When we have enough okra to pickle, we’ll defrost the entire lot, and get the pickling done the same day. I’m thinking that we’ll notice a small loss in quality, but probably not enough for anyone else to notice.

Timing is an essential part of planning the garden, the harvest, and the food processing. Your garden is unlikely to know or care about your plans, however, so you have to remain flexible. When you encounter a problem of too much, too little, or not enough at the right time, think about solutions that will help you overcome these problems, rather than fret over a situation you can’t change anyway. Let me know about your garden timing issues at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Real World Global Warming

Every time I hear someone talk about global warming, they discuss the issue in terms that have no real meaning to me. Yes, I understand that the average temperature is going to increase as a result of global warming and that I’ll see weather pattern changes. However, what does it really mean to me? Why should I care? I don’t mean to appear uncaring, but prognostications of impending doom are better served with a dose of reality.

I’ve already discussed one direct result of global warming—the USDA has defined new hardiness zones as described in my Contemplating the Hardiness Zone Changes post. However, even this direct result of global warming doesn’t say much to me. It’s not an indicator that I see every day—something I can point to and say that it’s the result of putting too many of the wrong chemicals into the air.

However, this spring is providing something in the way of a wake up call to me personally. Spring came early this year; very early. Odd spring weather is nothing new to Wisconsin—we get odd weather every year. In fact, it’s the variety and uncertainty of weather that attracts me to Wisconsin. However, no one can remember a spring coming this early. Our spring has also been quite hot and dry. As a result, vegetables that normally do quite well in our garden, such as broccoli, are doing poorly.

In fact, all of our brassicas are doing poorly. I should have planted the brassicas earlier this year to accommodate the warm spring, but I didn’t. Local wisdom says not to plant too much, especially not tender plants, until Mother’s Day, which was simply too late this year. After talking to a number of other people, I find that I’m not the only one who planted too late. Everyone is complaining about how their broccoli has bolted without growing a head. Yes, you can pick the pieces and use them, but what you get is more like a second crop, rather than that perfect first crop in the form of a head.

The weeds, however, are doing marvelously. Rebecca and I can hardly keep up with them. We’re grabbing bushels of weeds from the garden at a time when we’re normally looking at light weeds and are able to mulch to keep them controlled. This year, we’re battling the weeds with vigor and mulching as soon as we get a patch freed from their grasp. However, I’m thinking that the late summer weeds we normally get poking up through the mulch are going to appear by mid-summer this year, long before we’re ready to harvest some of the end of season offerings (assuming they grow at all).

Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad.  We’ve just had the best asparagus season ever. Not only have we had spears vigorously poking their heads above ground, but the spears are thicker and more tender than usual. Rebecca has quite a few meals worth of asparagus already frozen because we can’t even contemplate eating it all without making ourselves sick. So, we’ve learned that asparagus loves exceptionally warm springs, but brassicas  don’t.

We’ve also had a pleasant surprise in the form of cantaloupes. Normally we have a hard time growing them, but we try anyway. The other day I noted that our cantaloupes are already flowering. They also appear quite vigorous this year, so I anticipate getting a lot of a cherished fruit that I often have to buy at the store as a “nicety” instead of picking it from my garden. This change in garden does lend credence to my number one rule of planting a wide variety of items to see what works and what doesn’t in a given year. Next year may very well prove to be the year the brassicas fight back, but this year I’m expecting a lot of broccoli soup.

I had mentioned in a previous post that our trees have also been affected by the spring weather. It turns out that our tree fruit harvest is just about ruined due to the odd weather because our trees simply aren’t used to it. We had thought we might get an exceptionally good berry harvest (the bushes are certainly full enough), but the exceptionally dry weather has already caused the black caps (a kind of raspberry) and the blueberries to fail.  On the other hand, the grapes apparently love our spring and are putting out more than I’ve ever seen them put out.  We can still hope that the blackberry and gooseberry harvests will be good too. The point is to look for the good and bad in the situation (as I described in my Every Year is a Good and a Bad Year post).

When you hear people discuss global warming in the news, it really doesn’t hit home. A degree or two temperature rise doesn’t quite make an impact. Even seeing the loss of ice at the poles doesn’t really hit the nail on the head like seeing your gardening conditions change so significantly that you never imagined they’d be the way they are now. Most scientists now accept global warming as a reality, but they continue to spout facts and figures that most of us can’t begin to relate to. What does global warming mean to you? How have you been affected by it? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.