This was my first year growing charentais melons, or as I like to call them fancy French melons. Because who doesn’t want to grow fancy melons? I mean I certainly do! I came across these little beauties when I was perusing my favourite place to buy heirloom seeds, which is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. In my heart of hearts, I hope that you already have a garden full of heirloom seeds. But if by chance you do not, then here are 5 reasons you should add heirloom seeds to your garden.
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So anyway back to our fancy French melons. They are cute, aren’t they? These guys are tiny, about the size of a softball, usually 2-3lb fruits. They are very similar in taste to cantaloupes but it has it’s own distinct and a bit more intense flavour. Which makes sense as they ARE a type of cantaloupe. It goes by the very distinguished scientific name of Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis. Their skin is different from those run of the mill cantaloupes as it is smooth. The colour tends towards grey/green as it is growing and lightens taking on a slight yellow hue as it ripens but keeping its dark stripes.
A history lesson
The Charentais melon originated in the Poitou-Charentes region of Western France back in the 1920s (also the home of Cognac). It even has its own festival, the Féria du Melon à Cavaillon, which is held in Cavaillon on the second weekend of July. The festival concludes with the running of 100 Camargue horses through the streets of the town. There is even a brotherhood of knights devoted to this melon, which were founded in 1988. They are the Confrérie des Chevaliers de l’Ordre du Melon de Cavaillon (Knights of the Order of the Melon) and it is their sworn duty to uphold the standing of the charentais melon. They inspect each year’s harvest to ensure it’s density, appearance and taste. As if all that wasn’t enough, there is even a nine-ton sculpture of this delicious fruit that greets visitors as they reach the town of Cavaillon. See I told you it was fancy!
Given all this pomp and circumstance it was mandatory that I grow this fancy and supremely delicious melon in my backyard. One of the things I love about heirloom fruits and vegetables is their story and history, this one sure fits that bill! So behold below, my first (and only) charentais melon. In the spirit of full disclosure, I think I picked it a wee bit too soon. But in my defence, I was terrified that some random trash panda (raccoon) would enjoy its deliciousness before I had a chance to! Anyway lessons learned and all that jazz. I will say it WAS delicious, so at least I had that.
Charentais melons can be direct seeded outdoors once all danger of frost has passed or you can start them indoors 1 month before the transplanting date. They will do well with 2-3 inches of organic matter added on top of the soil. Work this into a depth of about 6-8″, then you can form a mound that is about 2 inches high and 4″ in diameter. If you are direct seeding then you will want to plant 3-4 seeds per hill/mound and plant the seeds about 1″ deep. You will want to keep the soil moist during the duration of the growing season. The seeds should germinate within 3-10 days. Once the seedlings are about 6″ tall you can cover them with 1-2″ of straw or mulch to help retain soil moisture.
Best way to grow Charentais melons
I am going vertical in a big way next year. As a micro homesteader I do not have a lot of space to work with, so growing vertically just makes sense. As a bonus these Charentais melons are a PERFECT candidate for vertical gardening. Unlike most musk melons, Charentais melons do NOT detach from their stem when they are ripe (more on knowing when they are ripe later). Normally when you grow melons vertically you need to make little slings for them, so they don’t fall to the ground and smash. Crushing your dreams of melon domination to smithereens. These beauties won’t do that, so…
Charentais melons 1 vs Cantaloupe 0
Another good reason to grow Charentais melons vertically is that they are prone to splitting when they are ripe. So if they are grown on the ground they easily fall prey to ants. Which can also crush your dreams of melon domination. I am planning on trying to grow Charentais melons hydroponically, so we will have to see how that works out. But the idea of having fresh melons in the dead of winter is enough to get me to try! Curious about what you can (and can’t) grow hydroponically? Check out my post on that very subject here. I actually managed to grow a charentais melon hydroponically. It was pretty cool eating one of these little gems in December! Oh, and did I mention that the hardiness zones for charentais melons extend from zones 2-24. So really there is no excuse!
“Pruning” charentais melons
Some gardeners will tell you to remove all but the three best melons per vine. As I am still new to the Charentais world I am not able to personally weigh in on this, also I only had one fruit this year so… But the idea is that by reducing the number of melons per vine, the plant is able to focus all it’s energy on the remaining ones. Word on the street is that you end up with larger melons this way.
When to harvest
A charentais melon will reach maturity within 75-90 days. They tend to split at the bottom when they are fully ripe. This is a great indicator, but you have to make sure they don’t fall victim to ants. Also, they give off a delicious smell that wafts through the morning air when they are ripe. The tendril closest to them tends to shrivel and go brown when they are ripe. But this is not 100%. They also change colour from grey/green to a light green/yellow with a hint of orange. Unlike most musk melons, they do not fall off when they are ripe. So you will have to keep checking on them and cut them off when the time is right.
As always, I encourage you to save seeds for this year’s harvest to plant for next year. Charentais melons are a prime candidate for this as we harvest, and eat them when they are mature. All you have to do is to scoop out the seeds and pop them into a little mason jar with some water. I like to cover the top with a piece of paper towel or toilet paper and write the type of seed and date on it. Then just secure it with a mason jar ring. Let them sit for about 2 days so that they can ferment.
This method is also great to help identify seeds that are variable vs those that are no good for no one. The good seeds will settle at the bottom and the bunk ones will float to the top and can be discarded. Once you have picked out any bad seeds, dump the rest into a strainer and rinse them with clean water. Then layout a piece of paper towel and lay the seeds out on it with space between them.
Let them dry for about a week and then you can transfer them to storage awaiting next season’s planting! If after a week they don’t seem dry enough, leave them a bit longer. We want to make sure they are fully dry so that they don’t go mouldy. Make sure to put them in a container with some air circulation.
Then you will be well on your way to dazzling your friends, family and enemies with your fancy French melons. For most people, it will be their first time encountering this delicious little melon! Be sure to let them know about the festival, statue and knights to make sure they are sufficiently impressed with your accomplishment!
Have you grown Charentais melons before? What is your favourite melon to grow?