What information can you give me regarding organic melon production?
N.M.North CarolinaAnswer: 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 publication, Sustainable Soil Management and Soil Management: National Organic Program Regulations.General Management: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. This is important for pollination purposes.Organic Pest Management for Melons/Cantaloupe:The major pests of watermelon cantaloupe are the same that afflict Cucurbit crops in general. A good guide for general organic pest management is titled, Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management. It is based in the Northeast, but should still be applicable to your situation. They have a specific section on Cucurbit pest management, which I find to be quite comprehensive. You can access this publication online at: http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/pp/resourceguideor the chapter on Cucurbits at: http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/pp/resourceguide/cmp/cucurbit.phpCucumber beetle is a major pest of cucurbits in general. The ATTRA publication, Cucumber Beetle: Organic and Biorational IPM is a good resource for Cucumber Beetle control.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 New York Cooperative Extension vegetable page list different watermelon varieties that are resistant to the above diseases and viruses. You can access this information at the following link:http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/recommends/18frameset.htmlThe 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.The ATTRA web site has a useful database of biorational pesticides that will be helpful to refer to as your season progresses. You can search by pest or by product. The link to this database is:http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/biorationals/Weed control can be achieved with plastic mulch, which also helps warm the soil in the early summer months. Otherwise, weeding in the initial part of the season is essential to prevent water competition. Once the plants spread out weeding becomes less critical.Marketing and Enterprise Budgets:It is important to determine the profitability of this crop before growing it on a significant scale at your farm. 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 North Carolina Market Ready site for a lot of enterprise budget templates for watermelon. Some substitutes for extra labor in weed and pest control would need to be accounted for. You can access this web site at the following link:http://www.ncmarketready.org/enterprise-budgets/fruits.phpWatermelons have a good direct market and never seem to have a problem selling at farmers markets. The Rodale Institute Organic Price Report has weekly wholesale fruit and vegetable prices. I did confirm that they have cantaloupe prices under the “Fruit” category. The direct link to the New Farm OPR is at:http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/Organic-Price-ReportT.H ~ NCAT Agricultural Specialist