|Cantaloupe in bloom, supported by concrete reinforcement wire cage.|
|If you always dreamed of growing cantaloupe in your garden but were unable to because of limited space – try growing them in a cage. You may have already tried this technique with cucumbers but it works equally well with cantaloupe. The main difference is you must provide some type of support as the young fruit matures.|
|First of all, you will need to prepare the garden soil just as you would if you were growing your melons using the traditional, space-gobbling system. Start by incorporating a generous amount of compost and a couple of pounds of decomposed barnyard manure over the planting area. Each cage will take up a square about 4 feet by 4 feet with 3 to 4 feet between cages. Scatter a handful or so of a complete fertilizer over each planting area. Then rototill the area to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.
If you have heavy soil or poor drainage consider building a simple raised bed by mounding the soil 3 to 4 feet high over each planting area. Raised beds are beneficial in most gardening situations but are even more so with cantaloupe since fruit that matures in wet, boggy soil usually has poor flavor. Also, avoid over-watering as your crop reaches full size.
|Plant three or four seeds in the center of each bed. Once they have emerged and are growing vigorously remove all but one or two of the plants. Before the plants start to vine, build a cage 3 to 4 feet in diameter out of concrete reinforcement wire, just like you would for tomatoes only bigger. Place the cage over the young plants and secure with steel posts. As the vine grows, train it to grow up the cage.
Once you have fruit on your vines as large as your fist you will need to provide some type of support. We like to cut the feet out of old panty hose for this purpose. Gently place the fruit in the stocking and tie to the cage. The material will expand as the fruit matures.
Keep an eye on your melons as they mature. Most varieties will be ready for harvest in about 75 to 90 days after seeding (longer for a fall planted crop). When you notice cracks in the area where the stem is attached to the fruit you will know that it is ripe and ready for harvest. It should be easy to remove from the vine at this time. Avoid harvesting your cantaloupe too soon since it must ripen on the vine in order to reach full flavor.