September 2010


Since our mission is to find fruit varieties that are adaptable to growing in New Mexico it seemed logical to go to the first agriculturists, The Native Americans.  In the fall of 2007 I read in the Albuquerque Journal about a gentleman from San Felipe Pueblo who sold melons at the Farmer’s Market in Bernalillo.  I made a trip to the market to see him and to buy some melons.  I asked him what variety they were and he said “Don’t Know” . When asked if he knew the type he shrugged his shoulders and said “Melons”. After some discussion I found that his family had grown melons at the pueblo for generations, handed down father to son and this was the “Pueblo” melon.  They were very pricey in my opinion. $5 for a baseball size about $6 for a store size and $10-$12 for large.  He told me how he always sold out and this appeared to be the case as people were buying.  I got a medium one and took it home to sample.  It was ok,- good,  but not as good as what you could get in the grocery store and looked to be a little underripe.  Apparently the Journal article made his business boom and he now sold high and all he could get, so I assumed he picked it a little early.  Unfortunately melons will not ripen off the vine like tomatoes or say, European pears. 

However this got me thinking and doing some research. There are 19 Pueblos in New Mexico and each one has developed its own agriculture and varieties of vegetables which are obviously suited to the elevation, watering technique and specific growing conditions there.  It seems that they had already done our work for us, all we needed was to procure some seed and grow them out.  

Native Seed Search is an organization dedicated to preserving the agriculural heritage seeds of the Southwest.  We chose 4 varieties to grow Corrales, Ojo Caliente,  San Juan and Santa Domingo casaba. See catalog pictures below.

Corrales Melon

Corrales Melon

Ojo Caliente Melon

Ojo Caliente Melon

San Juan Melon

San Juan Melon

Santo Domingo Melon

Santo Domingo Melon

As is often the case, the descriptions don’t match the final result. NSS is better than most at providing accuracy and not glorifying a type.  On 9/25/10 we picked the best example of each type and tested for size, productivity and mainly taste.  I am listing the catalog description along with our description.

 
 

Corrales Melons

Corrales Melons

 

Corrales-A new growout of a 1993 collection from Corrales, NM. Typical oblong native melons with ribs and smooth skin. Dark green fruit turn yellow when ripe. Sweet and juicy.  As you can see there is some variability in appearance at same date and age of fruit, not too bad.  NOT sweet and juicy, at best bland and juicy but pretty consistent in size and vines look and grow well. We will not grow this one again

Ojo Caliente- Originally obtained from a farmer in northern New Mexico. the oval fruits are smooth-skinned and can weigh 5-7 pounds. Pale green flesh with a tinge of orange is sweet and juicy. Harvest ripe fruits when bright yellow and aromatic.   This melon is not very productive and actually was extremely bitter. I have never tasted a melon like it, we had to rinse out our mouths several times it was so bad and it almost ended our melon tasting adventure.  Definite NO GROW.

Santo Domingo Casaba- Originally collected in Santo Domingo Pueblo, this is a casaba-type melon. The skin is slightly wrinkled, the flesh is white to light green. Sweet and tasty.  This melon was pretty productive and hardy with the fruits being much more consistent in size and appearance than the other types and very large seeds.  Unfortunately it has a poor taste.  Will not grow again

San Juan- A prolific honeydew-type with smooth, light green skin and light to deep lime-colored flesh. Vines are somewhat compact and desert hardy.  Prolific no, compact and hardy yes. I notice their description says nothing about taste yet we rate it’s taste as OK, nothing special and no better than store bought ,maybe not as good.  If you have a lot of space and want to experiment then this would be the one.  However there are much better melons out there to enjoy. 

In summary our opinion is not to waste time growing any of the Native melons.  They are inconsistent and seemed to have been probably cross pollinated with squash.  The hypothesis was good but the results were poor.

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Because melons are considered a “fruit” by most people we wanted to grow and report on our experiences with them.  Where to start?  There is a huge selection of varieties with every seed catalog listing at least 6 types and some having 20 or more.  The descriptions obviously written by professional marketing staff tell you that they either taste the best, grow the biggest or are the most disease resistant and of course will make you rich and get you the girl!  Canary, Cantaloupe, Charentais, Crenshaw, Casaba, Galia, Honeydew, Muskmelon, Persian melon, Sharlyn and the list of types goes on and on. Within these varieties or types there are many named cultivars or strains.  Flesh colors range from orange to green to yellow, some are cream or white and some mottled or striped and the rinds can be smooth, ribbed, netted or any combination.  Some catalogs break them down by American, European, Asian and other.  I don’t know if anyone could ever become an expert on melons with the vast array of types and varieties.  We aren’t adding watermelons to the list since they are a different species and our findings will be in a later post.  All that are known as melons in the trade are the same plant, Cucumis melo and will readily cross and bring about new varieties in 1 season.  That’s probably why there are so many available.  Add to that that each seed company may be selling the same strain under it’s own tradename and it can get quite confusing.

We chose the ones to trial by maturity date (shorter season), some by catalog description and some to give us a wide range of sizes and types.  I like to think of it as educated guessing, but we got our education on actually growing them.

A lot of people said that melons can’t be grown here, it just isn’t hot enough ( it is difficult to think of New Mexico as not hot enough) and besides many good ones come from Colorado and of course other parts of the nation.  Or it was too hot, or it was too cold at night etc., etc., etc.  Our experiences show that good melons can be grown in NM.

We decided that we would not use plastic and would use drip irrigation with only manure added to the soil.  Our goal was to grow them like most people would without a lot of babying and without special additives.  If they are to be a profitable crop they can’t take too much time or extra inputs.

In early spring we took native soil, rototilled it once to break up and loosen the clay and then later in the spring we added a 3″ layer of aged horse manure and bedding. This was rototilled once more to mix and was then ready to plant. This will increase the soil ph but we felt the benefit from the tilth it gave was worth the drawback of increasing an already very high ph (8.2) further.  The jury is still out on this and compost definately would be better as it has a buffering effect on the soil.

The drip irrigation we chose was a product called “T-Tape” sold by Dripworks.  This is a continous tubing that has micro holes spaced about every 8″.  No need to add drip emitters and very easy to lay down in a straight line. It gives full coverage of a row to about 12″ wide.  We picked the Low Flow which delivers about 20 gph per 100 foot length.  Our irrigation system is on timers and our initial setting was 30 minutes 2 times a day until 1 week after germination , then we went to 30 minutes once a day. Later we went to 1 hour every other day as the plants got bigger and roots got deeper.

We grew both on trellis and in the field and all were direct seeded, no transplants. Again we wanted to simulate what was easy for the average person.  Melons do not transplant well and can only be started for about 2 weeks prior to planting out.  Whenever we have transplanted it seems the transplant shock sets back the plant enough that the direct seeded catches up with it anyway, so why go to the extra trouble if it is not needed.  In the field we planted 2 seeds together at 24″ spacing and 24″ apart in the rows alternating.  When the plants got to between 8 and 12″ we cut off and thinned out the weakest or smallest of each set leaving us with 1 plant every 24″ and 24″ apart.  The benefit to this was that not all seeds will germinate, but by planting 2 in a spot you will at least get 1 ,and if you get 2 you keep the best one.

We also planted 7 types to be grown on trellis.  These were planted at a rate of every 8″ and thinned to approx 12″ apart at the same size.  Melons will grow on a trellis but need immediate attention and at least weekly tying to get them trained up it.  They have a tendency to grow sideways on a trellis and not vertical.  The benefits to trellis growing in theory are it uses a lot less space, good circulation and air flow to prevent diseases and ease of viewing and picking (no bending).  Our experience is that while it is more work, the plants looked better and lasted the season, they were healthier maybe because of the sun getting to all sides and were more productive. Your first melons will be on the ground though because that is where the first flowers are located on the vine. 

 Many people will tell you that if you grow on a trellis that you must support the fruit with a sling of some type or it will break from the vine because of the weight. 

Melons on trellis without support

Use cheesecloth, nylon hose or even old bras to support them and the weight.  Thank goodness it is only an old wife’s (growers) tale.  Lets see 20 varieties, 20 or so plants of each variety, 2 melons per vine,  yes I can see myself going door to door asking for old bras to support my melons  and then when I do saying . “Oh, sorry to bother you, we only wanted to grow big melons”.  Seriously though, as you can see in the picture these are 5-6 lb melons growing without support and freely swinging in the breeze.  The vines grow thick and tough enough you do not need to tie the melon up.