Muskmelon (Cucumis melo) an important cucurbitaceous crop, has gained commercial importance due to its short duration and high production potential as well as high nutritive value. Farmers earn a handsome profit from this crop in a short duration of 3 months. It is relished. for its sweet taste. The unripe fruit is also cooked as vegetables in villages. Seed kernels are edible, tasty, and nutritious, since they are rich in oil and energy, they are in great demand. It is a popular vegetable grown both under rainfed and irrigated conditions. However, early sowing under protective cover would save it from the attack of the red pumpkin beetle.
India is regarded as its secondary center of origin. Although the crop is generally known as melon, it is also called the sweet melon, muskmelon, casaba, and cantaloupe. In India, it is cultivated on an area of about 39.72 thousand ha with a production of 8.13 lakh tonnes. It is widely cultivated in Rajasthan, Punjab, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. The cultivation of muskmelon is also done on riverbeds of Yamuna, Ganga, and Narmada in the North, and Kaveri, Krishna and Godavari in the South.
Table of Content (toc)
Climate and soil
Muskmelon flourishes well under a warm climate and cannot tolerate frost. The optimum temperature for germination of seeds is 27-30°C. With increase. in temperature, the plants complete their vegetative growth earlier. Stormy weather particularly dust-storm during flowering reduces fruit set. Dry weather with clear sunshine during ripening ensures a high sugar content, better flavor, and a high percentage of marketable fruits. High humidity increases the incidence of diseases, particularly those affecting foliage. Cool nights and warm days are ideal for the accumulation of sugars in fruits. It grows well under optimum temperature between 18°C and 24°C. Cool nights and warm days are ideal for the accumulation of sugars in the fruits for muskmelon.
Well-drained, loamy soil is ideal. Lighter soils that warm up quickly in spring are usually utilized for an early crop. In heavier soils, vine growth is more and fruit maturity is delayed. On sandy riverbeds, alluvial substrate and subterranean moisture of river streams. support its growth. In riverbeds, its long taproot system is adapted to grow. It is necessary that soils should be fertile well provided with organic matter. It is sensitive to acidic soils. The crop cannot be grown successfully below a pH of 5.5. A soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal. Alkaline soils with high salt concentrations are not suitable.
The salient characters of recommended open-pollinated varieties and F, hybrids are outlined here.
Arka Jeet: The fruits are small, round with flat ends, weighing about 400 g each with smooth skin and orange to orange-brown color. Fruit flesh is white with medium-soft texture, excellent flavor, juicy, very sweet (15% TSS), and rich in vitamin C. It is an early maturing variety with an average yield of 150 q/ha.
Arka Rajhans: Fruits are round to slightly oval, weighing about 1 kg each with creamy-white and netted skin. Fruit flesh is white, thick, firm, and sweet (11-12% TSS). It has a long shelf-life and is suitable for distant transportation. It is an early maturing variety, with an average yield of 285 q/ha.
Durgapura Madhu: Fruits are oblong, weighing 500 600 g each with pale-green rind. Fruit flesh is light green, non-juicy, and very sweet (13% TSS) with a medium seed cavity. It is an early-maturing variety.
Gujarat Muskmelon-3: Fruits are oblong round, sutured, netted, and light yellow. Fruit flesh is soft, green, possessing a sweet taste and good aroma with high TSS (12%). Its average fruit yield is 127.5 q/ha.
Hara Madhu: This variety is late in maturity. The fruit is medium-sized (800g), round and slightly tapering towards the stalk end; very sweet (13% TSS); light yellow skin with green sutures; green and juicy flesh; and large seed cavity. The fruits do not develop a full slip stage. The average yield is 125 q/ha. It is moderately resistant to powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt.
Kashi Madhu: Fruits are round, smooth, green sutured, pale yellow, weighing about 700 g. Fruit flesh is salmon-orange, thick, very juicy (13-14% TSS). It has long post-harvest life and is good for transportation. Its average fruit yield is 235 q/ha. It is tolerant of powdery and downy mildew diseases.
Punjab Hybrid: The fruit is round, light yellow, sutured, and netted weighing about 750 g each. Fruit flesh is thick, orange, juicy, and excellent flavor with 12.5% TSS. The fruits develop a full slip stage. Moderately resistant to powdery mildew and resistant to fruit fly; early in maturity; and average yield 163 q/ha.
Punjab Sunehri: The fruit is globular, round, light brown weighing about 700 g with intensely netted rind. Fruit is thick orange, medium in juiciness, and very sweet (13% TSS). The inside of the rind separating it from the orange flesh is green. The fruits develop a full slip stage. The crop matures about 12 days earlier than Hara Madhu; yields 163 q/ha; a long shelf-life; suitable for distant transportation; and is resistant to fruit fly.
Pusa Madhuras: Fruits are roundish-flat weighing 1 kg; pale-green skin and sparsely netted with dark green stripes. Fruit flesh is salmon-orange, juicy, and sweet (13% TSS); poor keeping quality; mid-season variety; and fruit yield 150 q/ha.
Pusa Sharbati: Fruits are round, netted and green sutured weighing about 800 g each. Fruit flesh is salmon-orange, firm, thick, and moderately sweet (11.5% TSS) with a small seed cavity. Its keeping quality is good. It is suitable for riverbed cultivation in northern India; an early-maturing variety; and fruit yield is 150 q/ha.
Sowing or transplanting
Muskmelon is propagated by seed. In north India, early sowing is done in river beds from November to January. In northern plains, sowing is done at the end of February to the first week of March, while in southern plains in December January. The optimum temperature for seed germination is 24-29°C. With careful planting on hills by dibbing, 1 kg of seed is sufficient for 1 ha. The bed size for Hara Madhu is 4 m while it is 3 m for other varieties. Two seeds are sown per hill on both sides of beds at a distance of 45-60 cm between hills. For raising an early. crop, seedlings are grown in polythene bags and crop matures 15-20 days earlier than directly seeded crop. For this, seeds can be sown in polythene bags under a protected cover. The polythene bags of 15 cm x 10 cm size and of 100-gauge thickness punched at the base should be filled with a mixture of soil and well rotten farmyard manure in equal proportions or with soil well rotten farmyard manure and silt in equal proportions in case of sandy soil. For raising the nursery in one hectare, 12.5-15 kg polythene bags are required. The seeds should be sown in the bags in the last week of January or the first week of February. The bags should be placed near the wall facing the sun. The seeds should not be sown deeper than 1.5 cm. After sowing, water should be applied daily in the afternoon, preferably with a sprinkling can. After sowing, polythene bags need to be protected from rains and thunderstorms. Inclement weather can damage the nursery, even destroy the seedlings causing huge losses to the growers. Young seedlings also need protection from diseases and insect pests. The soil of the roots zone of young seedlings is regularly drenched with Captan @ 1.5-2.0 g/litre of water to check the attack of soil-borne pathogens. Transplanting should be done by the end of February or the first week of March when the seedlings are 25-30 days old and have two true leaves. Two days before transplanting watering of bags should be withheld. For transplanting, a cut is given on the side of the bag with a sharp blade and the bag is removed. The earth ball should be placed on the hill very carefully and not allowed to break. The pit is filled with soil with the tip of the plant towards the bed so that plant may not fall in the channel. Irrigation is applied immediately after transplanting. With this method, the fruits mature by the second or third week of May.
Soil should be ploughed well with a disc-harrow 2-3 times followed by cultivation and planking twice when it is in the optimum moisture condition. Seeds should be sown on ridges of beds. The width of the bed depends upon the variety to be planted. Generally, 4 m wide raised beds are prepared for muskmelon cv. Hara Madhu, usually 3.0-3.5 m wide for other cultivars, and in the wide beds (3.5 m or more) it is easy to use tractor operated equipment for weeding. Planting is done on both sides of the beds. Hill-to-hill distance of 45-60 cm; can be accommodated by reducing more plants per hectare, which reduces weed population and subsequently increases fruit yield. The planting can also be successfully done in long water channels. The channels can be prepared either with a tractor-mounted ridger or manual labor. The distance between the channels should be according to the width of the bed. Subsequently, the vines should be raised to grow in between the channels.
Manuring and fertilization
In general, 25-30 tonnes of farmyard manure, 125 kg of N, 55 kg of P2O5, and 55 kg of K₂O/ha are recommended in the directly seeded crop. The farmyard manure should be added 10-15 days before sowing and mixed well in the soil. In general, whole phosphorus and potassium along with one-third of N should be applied on marked lines where channels are to be made. However, for the application of these nutrients, a mixture of 120 kg diammonium phosphate and 90 kg muriate of potash can be applied on the marked lines where channels are to be made. The remaining dose of nitrogen (150 kg of urea) split into 3 doses should be added after 3-4 weeks of sowing at an interval of 15 days and mixed with the soil after hoeing and earthing up of plants to ensure maximum early growth, fruit set, and maturity. Under the transplanting technique, the row to row and the plant to plant distances are the same as in the above method. Locate the planting spots for the plants and dig 15-20 cm deep. pits for receiving the plants. Fill each pit with a mixture of 1 kg of well-rotten farmyard manure and make a mixture of 120 kg diammonium phosphate and 90 kg muriate of potash. Put about 40-45 g of this mixture into each pit before planting and also add 1-2 g of Furadan 3G (carbofuran) to check the red pumpkin beetle. The remaining dose of nitrogen (150 kg of urea) split into 3 doses should be added as is done indirectly sown crop. Nitrogenous fertilizers encourage vegetative growth and increase female and perfect flowers. The addition of nitrogen narrows down the sex ratio.
Maintaining sufficient moisture is essential. However, the frequency of irrigation should be reduced during the maturity period to get sweeter fruits. The irrigation should be as light as possible. The light sandy soils need more frequent irrigation than heavier ones. Over-flooding of the field should be avoided, particularly when fruits are nearing maturity. During dry summer, irrigate the crop at 3-4 days intervals.
Hoeing and weeding
In the beginning, cultivation can be shallow (5-10 cm) and fairly close to the plants. The growth of lateral roots often equals or exceeds that of the above-ground parts. Therefore, later hoeing should be relatively shallow. When vines cover the ground, weeding should be done carefully so that vines are disturbed minimum. Being a short-duration crop, it responds well to nutrients added in time after hoeing and weeding. The delay in hoeing and weeding hampers crop growth and subsequently yield is drastically reduced. During April-June severe dust storms hamper vegetative growth and roll them up; in some cases even uproot the vines if the fields are kept clear of weeds. There is then a poor fruit setting. It is, therefore, advisable to keep the area near the roots free from weeds but allows them to grow on the beds away from the root zone, so that the vines during growth can get hold of them and are disturbed the least by fast winds.
Harvesting and post-harvest management
Fruits maturing on the vine, before becoming overripe, are superior in quality to those harvested immature or left on the vine after they have become mature. Harvesting at the proper stage is very important to ensure good quality fruits. The fruits for distant markets should be harvested as they reach the half slip maturity to avoid losses from over-ripening and decay. For local markets, harvesting should be done at the full-slip stage. However, Hara Madhu never reaches the full-slip stage, and the color of the rind can be taken as the criterion of maturity. Flavour and texture of the fruit flesh improve for a few days after harvesting and attain the highest quality if the fruits are harvested when they have developed their maximum sugar content. Sweetness is more in hot and dry weather conditions when plants are healthy and vigorous.
Seed production: Land should be free from volunteer plants of the same crop or other crossable crop species, viz. snap melon (phut), long melon (tar), wanga, and wild melon (chibber). A seed crop field must be isolated all around by a minimum distance of 1,000 m and 500 m for foundation and certified seed, respectively. Systematic and timely field inspections at different stages, viz. before flowering, during flowering and fruiting, and finally at fruit maturity are required. In muskmelon, edible fruit should be examined for internal fruit characters and sweetness. Muskmelon fruit is ready for seed harvest at its peak of edibility. The rind of the fruit changes color. In most of the cultivars, a crack develops at the point of attachment of the fruit to the stem. The fruit gets easily detached from the vine. This is called the full slip stage of fruit maturity, but in Hara Madhu, it does not occur. Change in its rind color is the only index to judge the fruit’s maturity. The fruit is cut into two halves and the seed is scooped out and placed in a non-corrosive metallic trough, earthen pot, wooden barrel, or plastic bag. The seed is left for fermentation for a day (24 hr). Slow and prolonged fermentation should be avoided. After the fermentation is completed, the seed mixture is washed with water to float off the placental debris or pass it through the wire mesh to get the clean seed. Fermented seed is superior in germination to mechanically cleaned seed or the seed separated immediately after fruit harvest.
The seed is usually extracted during the hot season. It should be dried as early as possible. The seed loses its color and viability if not dried properly. The seed should be spread in a thin layer, either on the drying floor or on screen-bottom trays, directly exposed to the sun. Frequent stirring of the seed helps its quick drying. For artificial drying of the wet seed, the drying temperature should not exceed 38°C, but as it becomes comparatively dry, the temperature may be raised to 44°C. For safe storage, the seed should be dried to a moisture content of 6-7% for vapor-proof and pervious containers. Carefully dried and properly stored seed in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place can retain its viability for 3-4 years.