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Growing 'Minnesota Midget' Cantaloupe

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'Minnesota Midget' cantaloupe is a backyard gardener's dream. These super-sweet, softball-size muskmelons grow on unusual three- to four-foot vines. You can even grow 'Minnesota Midget' in a container on your patio, because it is that well behaved. Each plant will produce six to eight melons, each perfect as a treat for one or two people.

This short-season grower (days to maturity: 60 to 70) is a good choice for gardens in cooler climates, but it will thrive in almost any climate. The Minnesota moniker simply refers to where it was bred and introduced.

Flavor: The thick, orange walls of this melon pack a lot of flavor into a small package. A high sugar content makes it sweet enough for dessert, and the firm, suple texture truly melts in your mouth. These tiny gems have thin rinds, so no dewy flesh is wasted.

Growing notes: Do not plant the seeds outdoors until the soil temperature reaches 65–75˚F. Seeds germinate in 5 to 10 days. Plant them .5 to 1 inches deep, with 2 or 3 seeds in hills 2 to 4 feet apart; after germination thin to one plant per hill. You can also start seed indoors, three to four weeks before the transplant date, but melons do not like their roots disturbed, so start in peat or paper pots that can be transplanted directly in the ground. In USDA Zones 8 and warmer, you can make a second planting in midsummer for a fall harvest.

Water transplants well to get them established. Provide regular water to the plants throughout the growing season, until the melons start ripening. Withholding some water as they ripen helps concentrate the sugars.

'Minnesota Midget' is a fast grower, so do not be tempted to start the growing season too early. Like any melon variety, it needs rich, well-draining soil and lots of sunshine. It is a good choice for containers, with vines growing to about four feet long. A container will help keep the roots warm and lift the fruits off the ground, away from insects and four-legged pests. Remember that the soil in containers will dry out quickly, so extra water will be required.

This melon is resistant to Fusarium wilt, a true bane of melon growers.

How to harvest: Melons will emit a sweet scent as they near maturity. Muskmelons are harvested at full slip, which means they separate from the vine with the slightest effort. You will probably notice some cracking of the stem near where it joins the melon. Because of this, you should provide support for fruits grown on a trellis, Cradle each fruit on the vine with something that has a bit of give, such as old stockings or netting.

Others to try: 'Eden's Gen' produces softball-size green melons. This Colorado selection is extremely sweet and juicy. 'Green Climbing' (syn. 'Vert Grimpant') is a fragrant French heirloom with small green fruits. It prefers a hot, dry climate. 'Petit Griss de Rennes' is an old, sweetly perfumed French melon

This post was excerpted from The Beginner's Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables by Marie Iannotti (Timber Press, 2011).

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