MELON

MELON

By some accounts, the origins of the melon are to be found in Africa; according to others, it would come from Persia. However it may be, the melon was already known and used in ancient Egypt and later, during the Greek-Christian era, also spread to the Roman Empire. For many centuries, however, the melon should not have had the sweet flavor we know today and was, in fact, eaten with salad. Pliny (first century AD), in his book Naturalis Historia, compared it to the cucumber. The aromatic and sweet melon seems to have arrived in Italy in 1400, exactly in the castle of Cantalupo, near Rome. It was brought by missionaries returning from the distant countries of Asia. The melon is an herbaceous climbing variety belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, like the pumpkin and cucumber. It is a monoecious species, i.e. male and female flowers abide separately on the same plant, on the leaf's axil. For this reason, pollination is prevalently cross-pollination and there must be the presence of insect pollinators (bees, bumblebees) to carry the pollen from the male flowers to female ones. It seems certain that the quality of the product (sweetness and size) is correlated with a good cross-fertilization. The plant suffers a lot from "tired" soil so one must avoid planting on the same melon patch used in previous years, otherwise the result will be heavy parasitic attacks on the roots (Fusarium). To avoid this problem, there have been on the market for some time now melon plants grafted on pumpkin that, given their high resistance to disease, are not affected by the problem of continuous cropping (transplanting on the same ground). The varieties of melon are divided into two main groups: the inodorous, i.e. the "winter" melon and the netted or smooth summer varieties. The first is called "winter" variety not so much for the cultivation period, which takes place in summer, but for the long shelf-life that allows one to extend its consumption throughout the winter. The sweet, summer melon, on the other hand, matures more quickly and is very fragrant. As for the appearance of summer melons, one can distinguish smooth and "netted" varieties, both of which can have excellent characteristics of sweetness and flavor. Today, the difference between winter and summer melons is less defined as there are marketed hybrid varieties of "summer" melons which have some distinctive features of the "winter" melon, such as little aroma (to avoid contaminating all the other food in the refrigerator with their aroma), good shelf-life, and sweet, crunchy pulp even before complete maturation.

CULTIVATION

The cultivation of the melon begins with the seedling, which should be planted when temperatures do not fall below 10 ° C. The melon grows well, in fact, with air temperatures around 25/30 °C, alternating with night temperatures of 15/18 °C. It is very important to know that the melon also benefits from having rather high soil temperatures, around 15 °C. The production of this crop can easily exceed 6 kg / sqm, which is why it requires a good fertilization in which the ratio of the major nutrients (N, P, K) is 1: 0.4: 1.3. This indicates a high removal of potassium and nitrogen. This last element must be administered very carefully, because fertilizers with excessive levels of nitrogen will stimulate the plant to emit leaves and stems and not produce fruit. For fertilization, one can intervene with a dose of 2-3 kg / sqm of compost, 50 g / sqm of potassium sulphate (never chloride), and 30 g / sqm of triple phosphate. During the cultivation, but only after fruit set, when the fruitlets are as big as a walnut, one can administer two or three doses of nitrogen in the form of potassium nitrate or guano. Green pruning is necessary when the melon plant tends to rapidly form many branches and leaves. In this case, one can intervene by shearing the branches to 5-7 leaves after the fruits. The secondary branches can also be sheared after 3-4 leaves.

ADVERSITIES

The most frequent diseases melons are susceptible to are due to fungi of the Fusarium genus which penetrate the plant by the rootage or the collar, and obstruct the lymphatic vessels, leading to plant's death. To avoid this problem, one should avoid replanting melons on land where other cucurbits have been cultivated in previous years, or one can use plants that have been grafted on pumpkin, which is very resistant to the fungus. The foliar apparatus may be affected by powdery mildew, from Pseudoperonospora cubensis, from Cladosporium, and Botrytis Cinerea. These parasitic fungi may be countered with copper and sulfur based treatments. More specific interventions can be made with specific chemicals using caution and under the close supervision of a qualified technician. Among insects, attacks by aphids are frequent and can easily be contained by spraying natural pyrethroids, being careful not to treat during flowering so as to not target insect pollinators. A final warning should be given with regard to the attacks of the red spider mite, which can be distinguished by fine cobweb woven on the vegetative apex and below the leaves. These can be countered by introducing the predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis, which feeds on as many as 7 adult female spider mites per day!

HARVEST

The harvest of summer varieties, be they smooth or rough and fragrant (traditional), is done ??at the moment in which the stem marks its release from the fruit. For the most modern and less fragrant varieties, the harvest will be done when the outer colour of the fruit has a low colour change from green to yellow.