Breeding a Muskaloupe

Melon #1

Melon #1

Melon #2

Melon #2

Melon #2

Part of the Organic Seed Project, Cornell released this cross between Charentais, a french gourmet melon and Golden Gopher to NOFA-NY to distribute to interested organic farmers that are willing to do some of the selection work and therefore create a variety adapted to organic culture systems. A really good idea, I might add. Golden Gopher was chosen as the male pollinator in the cross (it's listed after Charentais- the female parent always goes first). Golden Gopher, for those of you who do not read CR Lawn's excellent variety descriptions in the Fedco Seed Catalog is the hero of New England organic farmers who strive to produce a fine-tasting melon in spite of an unforgiving climate. Maine, I am told by my NOFA friends who farm there, is not the melon capital of the world.

This is the second generation of siblings from the original cross and the diversity in the fruit is apparent less than 60 days from seeding. The vines are vigorous and productive and so far, the disease tolerance that the Cornell breeders have introduced into the cross by using a powdery mildew resistant line of Charentais looks like it might be working.

It's not unusual for us to experience fruit rot as the melons mature on the vine, so we'll be watching these carefully. Part of the selection process will be to cull those rot prone fruit or vines that begin to lose their vigor. It's interesting to note that while some fruit have a smooth gray skin and ribs (like a true European cantaloupe), others are well netted (like an American muskmelon) as these photos show. Most plants seem to be producing an intermediate type of fruit, with muskmelon and cantaloupe traits. Perhaps we should call it a muskaloupe?

The final test will come with the harvest. Disease resistance and early maturity are terrific characteristics but what about taste, fragrance and texture? These are all factors that will have to be taken into account during the selection process.

Melon #1

We harvested the melon #1 about 75 days after planting the seed. A nice round 2 1/2 - 3 lb melon about 8 or 9 inches across with moderate netting between the wide ribs. It ripened from gray to gold and slipped from the vine when I was examining it in the field. Solid, the exterior seems to be quite bruise resistant and it developed a wonderful fragrance. The interior is bright orange, thick fleshed down to the thin yellow rind. The flavor was acclaimed by the three of us who sampled it. Very sweet but with a fresh melon flavor, more charentais than musky, soft melting texture with juice that just dripped from your chin. My son said, "it was the perfect melon."

The second melon was the smallest of 3 that slipped from the vines two days later. The round melon had mottled dark green hard exterior with more corky netting than the others. Bright orange flesh and a very small seed cavity, green rind. Visitors that sampled the melon thought it was fine. I thought that it wasn't as sweet as #1, had a bit more muskiness and I found the flesh firm but pleasant.

Melon: Charentais x Golden Gopher Cornell Cross NY04-213-5C:

Ripe melons in the field

The Power of Selection

You might note that with some of the breeding work we do here at Flanders Bay Farm involve routine hand pollinations. If you think that hand pollination is necessary to be an effective plant breeder though, think again.

Selection is essentially a process where you determine which plants are producing the product of greatest value in your estimation under your growing system and in your micro-climate. It's like an accelerated evolution where not only does nature participate in the selection process, you also have a say; in this case, which melon is the fittest. From which fruit will seed be saved from to be planted the next year. Like a ruthless god, you should smite the inferior melons so they will not beget another generation and nurture the one's that please you.

It doesn't stop there though because you're going to do the same selection in your field next year. Soon, you'll be growing a melon that actually is adapted to your farm or garden (that's nature's part) and your personal preferences for a truly great melon (that's your part). Oh, the power!