Question of the Week
Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information regarding organic melon/ cantaloupe production.
In general, melons prefer an average soil pH. of 6.0 to 7.0. It is critical that the ground be warm enough for the seeds to germinate! Plant melons 4 to 6 feet apart and sow the seeds 1 inch deep. To get the plants off to a good start, plastic mulch helps to keep the soil warm. They can either be direct seeded or transplanted, but transplanting insures you will have a stronger plant starting in the field.
Organic soil management:
Melons are heavy feeders. It is important to work plenty of compost into the soil before planting. Soil enrichment, rather than plant enrichment is a tenet of organic production. For more information on organic soil management I recommend the ATTRA publications, Sustainable Soil Management and Soil Management: National Organic Program Regulations.
Melons need plenty of water during the growing season, so it is a good idea to use soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system. Floating row covers placed over the growing plants help deter insects and create a nice, warm micro climate. Place the row covers on new transplants or a newly seeded bed immediately after planting and remove them once flowers appear on the vines, so insects can pollinate them!
Organic Pest Management for Melons/ Cantaloupe:
The major pests of cantaloupe are the same that afflict Cucurbit crops in general. A good guide for general organic pest management in the Northeast is titled, Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management. They have a specific section on Cucurbit pest management, which I find to be quite comprehensive.
Cucumber beetle is a major pest of cucurbits in general. Please refer to the ATTRA publication, Cucumber Beetle: Organic and Biorational IPM.
A number of viruses and diseases such as cucumber mosaic (CMV), squash mosaic (SqMV), and watermelon mosaic (WMV-1,2) as well as powdery mildew, downy mildew, and gummy stem blight. These diseases can be controlled by using disease-resistant varieties, having a good crop-rotation system, growing on soils with good air and water drainage and judicious use of organically approved materials such as copper compounds.
The Kaolin Clay based product, Surround WP has show to have significant control with many cucurbit crop insect and disease pests if sprayed 2-3 times per season. The ATTRA Cucumber Beetle publication mentioned above discusses this strategy.
Weed control can be achieved with plastic mulch, which also helps warm the soil in the early summer months of the Northeast.
Marketing and Enterprise Budgets:
In your request, you mentioned the question of profitablility. The most important way of determining this would be to do an enterprise budget for your region. I would encourage you to look at the Pennsylvania State University Agriculture Alternatives Publication on Cantaloupe Production. It includes an Enterprise Budget Template. Some substitutes for extra labor in weed and pest control would need to be accounted for.
Cantaloupes have a good direct market and never seem to have a problem selling at farmers markets. The wholesale prices for cantaloupes can be obtained at the New Farm Organic Price Report section which has weekly wholesale prices. I did confirm that they have cantaloupe prices under the “Fruit” category.
High Mowing Organic Seeds. Melons and Watermelons. 2006 production information. From High Mowing Seeds Web site.
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