Try Heirloom Seeds for Growing Cantaloupe

Check out the wide range of heirloom melons, including Winter Melon, Hearts of Gold Melon, Pride of Wisconsin Melon and more, and start growing cantaloupes with lots of flavor.

| July/August 2014

  • The Jenny Lind melon is a smaller melon, weighing only 1 to 2 pounds.
    Photo courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • The Green Nutmeg cantaloupe ripens early with a wonderful fragrance.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
  • The Netted Gem and Rocky Ford melons are one and the same.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
  • The Oka cantaloupe thrives in colder temperatures, having been developed in Canada and introduced to the United States in the early 1920s.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The smell of a ripe muskmelon is like nothing else. You pick it up, raise it to your nose, and inhale. A sweet, sometimes pungent spicy scent mixed with a bit of fresh green — the musk odor of muskmelons — is almost overwhelming. If it’s a ripe heirloom melon, the scents are often more potent and complex. Whether at the supermarket, the farmers’ market or in your backyard, you handle the fruit as if it’s special, because it is. While melons are common and available year-round, they retain an aura of the exotic and mysterious.

Melons are a member of the wandering family, the Cucurbitaceae, otherwise known as the Squash or Gourd family, generally characterized by five parted flowers, often yellow or orange, and vines with tendrils. About 500 species of tropical or semi-tropical origin are found throughout history, from the Old and New World. Most members of this family are quick-growing tender annuals that require a lot of heat and warm soil to perform well. This is especially true of the melon group.


Melons belong to the genus Cucumis, consisting of 50 to 60 species in which a wide range of fruit types are cultivated for both ornament and food.

For many years, speculation has reigned as to where the melon originated. For a long time, it was thought that West Africa was the melon birthplace. Now, evidence points to several independent centers of origin in East Asia, India and Southeast Asia.

The melon species we are concerned with is Cucumis melo, subspecies melo, which contains seven groups with distinct fruit types, some of which do not resemble melons and of which about half are sweet.

One of the two most familiar melon groups is the Reticulatus group — the classic netted melon we call muskmelon or cantaloupe in the U.S., and the subject of this article. The Reticulatus group is sometimes lumped in with the Cantalupensis group, or true cantaloupe, except that this group is not netted and is rarely grown commercially in this country — it is most common in Cantaluppi, Italy, and across Europe. They are similar to netted muskmelons with smooth or warted rind and great flavor.

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