Demand for all types of melons has expanded considerably. Breeders are accommodating consumers with a greater array of specialty types of melons in addition to improved standard varieties. Most of today’s marketplaces showcase melon types unknown to most shoppers a decade ago. Whether called child, lunchbox, mini or personal size, the new diminutive melons pack all the flavor and nutrition into a small size. The fresh-cut market in particular is enjoying increased sales for this fragrant, flavorful, healthy fruit. Convenience plus quality equals higher demand.

Moreover, there are continuing strides in the development of cultivars resistant to the myriad of diseases, pests and environmental stresses that plague melons.

Both the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and private breeders are collaborating on locating and evaluating germplasm to identify disease and insect resistances, and to enhance fruit quality. This cooperation fortunately extends to international researchers as well.

New viral diseases, which are transmitted by insects, periodically appear and spread worldwide. For example, in the early 1990s, the sweet potato white fly-transmitted virus, Cucurbit yellow stunting disorder, appeared in the United Arab Emirates and spread throughout the Mediterranean basin before it reached Texas in 1998. Then, in the fall of 2007, it was observed in the low deserts of California, Arizona and west Mexico. To control this threat to our western cantaloupes and honeydew melons, researchers are working with potential resistant melons in Zimbabwe, Spain and India.

Other diseases, such as the powdery mildew fungus, have also become more problematic. Two races of powdery mildew were known 30 years ago; today there is evidence of nearly 30 races of this pathogen. In addition, several other pathogens, which are troublesome in watermelon fields, have now been detected in certain cantaloupe areas.

As with a wide range of vegetable crops, melon breeding for disease resistance responds to the needs of specific regions. For instance, the efforts of Texas A&M currently focus on powdery mildew, downy mildew, monosporaseus root rot/vine decline and gummy stem blight.

Market forces also influence research in the quest for new cultivars. The Sprite melon breeding program of North Carolina State selects for fruit shape, smooth rind, crisp white flesh, high sugar content, high marketable yield, early maturity, small seed cavity and freedom from defects. The disease resistance sought includes downy and powdery mildew. Breeders also look for rapid germination and emergence, plus strong vine growth and quick flowering.

The University of New Hampshire’s melon breeding lines reflect attributes such as earliness, superior shipping and holding qualities and sweet firm flesh, plus resistance to Fusarium wilt and powdery mildew.

Several orange fleshed honeydew melons demonstrate higher levels of desirable nutrients along with their accompanying sweet flavor. A current ARS research program focuses on lengthening postharvest shelf life and bolstering nutritional value, including the antioxidants of those non-netted melons. In addition, the smooth rind lessens the possibility of microbial contamination, making them a better choice for food safety.

ARS has another project designed to concentrate the fruit set of melon plants to produce only one or two harvests. This activity, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, also seeks to enhance fruit flesh color, sugar and beta-carotene.

Cantaloupes achieve high quality

Seminis’ newest melon, Atitlan, has a very strong vine and good yield. A western shipper, its round fruit has a thick, full, ropey net. This high-quality cantaloupe has a dark orange, firm, dry interior with a small seed cavity, high sugar content and good flavor.

Atlantis, a new eastern melon from Sakata with an oval shape, has excellent firmness and consistently high sugar content. With its consumer appeal, this cantaloupe can be used as a shipper or farm market melon. It was trialed as SSX 1268.

As its Mayan-dialect name denotes, Chujuc has high sugars. A western shipping cantaloupe, its dark orange color also indicates high beta-carotene content. Developed by the Texas A&M program led by Dr. Kevin Crosby, Chujuc resists powdery mildew races 1 and 2. It performs well in both subtropical environments with high temperatures and humidity and in desert regions.

Harris Moran’s Diva, trialed as HMX 4587, has produced uniform, high yields of dark orange, oval fruit. This early eastern shipper resists Fusarium wilt.

Grand Slam, trialed as HSR 4272, produces uniform, oval fruit. This eastern-type 6 to 8-pound cantaloupe produced by Hollar Seeds has thick, firm flesh with a sugar content of 14 to 16 brix. Tests for storage show better holding ability than the standard-variety cantaloupe. Purdue University trials reported yields of 29.6 tons per acre, with 25 percent of the yield in the early harvest. A good shipper, it resists powdery mildew and Fusarium races 0, 1 and 2.

Widely adapted, Hollar Seeds’ Home Run, trialed as HSR 4276, has held its quality after three weeks in storage. Flavorful, it has thick, firm, sweet flesh. Resistant to powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt races 1 and 2, this eastern cantaloupe ships well. Its early harvest yield was over 40 percent.

Orange Sherbet, bred by D. Palmer Seeds, combines the virtues of eastern shipping and Tuscan-type melons. With high sugar content and a strong melon flavor, it has bright orange flesh with a small cavity. Oval-shaped, this attractive 6-pound melon displays well. Also, it resists powdery mildew race 2 and Fusarium wilt races 1 and 2.

Strike, trialed as HSR 4274, has shown wide adaptation. In Georgia, it held better in a rainy season than the standard cantaloupe, plus it retained its sweet, firm quality after three weeks in cold storage. It also ships well. The uniform, 6 to 8-pound oval fruit also has firm thick flesh. This eastern type resists powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt races 0, 1 and 2. Dr. Brent Loy of the University of New Hampshire, with Hollar Seeds, bred Grand Slam, Home Run and Strike, all hybrid Athena types.

Wrangler, a productive Tuscan-type melon, features attractive, uniform fruits that resemble classical muskmelons. Also from Loy and Hollar Seeds, Wrangler, which trialed as HSR 4170, resists powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt races 0, 1 and 2. The 4 to 5.5-pound fruit has a long shelf life and can be shipped long distances. With a tight cavity, the firm fruit has a high sugar content. It is well- adapted to outdoor production.

Specialty melons enhance market diversity

Camposol, a Canary type from Sais Seeds in Italy, produces 5 to 6-pound wrinkled, oval fruit with firm white flesh. It has intermediate resistant to powdery mildew.

Hi Brix, a sweet Canary melon with wrinkled skin, features white, firm flesh and a small seed cavity. Produced by Nunhems, Hi Brix matures very early for a Canary type and resists both powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt.

The Sprite-type melons, NC-Sapphire, NC-Sparta, NC-Star and NC-Stella, all mature early. The flesh of each of these Oriental, white-skinned crisp-flesh cultivars is white with a high sugar content. The uniform fruits have a small seed cavity and a tough, thin, smooth rind. The sizes of these vary slightly, and shapes are round or oval. The brix measures 12 for NC-Sapphire and NC-Sparta, and 13 for NC-Star and NC-Stella. All resist downy and powdery mildew and are adapted for the southern United States. Developed by the North Carolina State breeders led by Dr. Todd Wehner, they expect to release several yellow-skinned, Oriental, crisp-flesh melons next year.

Named for a Mayan king, and bred in Crosby’s Texas A&M program, Pacal resists powdery mildew races 1 and 2, plus downy mildew, alternaria leaf blight and Fusarium wilt races 0 and 2. This medium-sized, high sugar, fragrant Casaba type also has a very long shelf life.

Riviera Sweet, an early Charentais melon developed by Harris Moran, resists both Fusarium wilt and powdery mildew. Trialed as HMX 9606, Riviera Sweet produces a concentrated set of very sweet, yellow-gold, round fruit on a strong plant.

Salmon Dew, bred by Nunhems, has orange flesh and a smooth rind. This 4 to 6-pound honeydew features firm and tasty flesh.

A new category of melon from Hollar Seeds, Sensation boasts exceptional eating quality. When harvested early, its flesh is green and white. Allowed to achieve full ripeness, the flesh is white and soft. At either stage, its sweetness, aroma and flavor rank at the top. The 6-pound fruit matures early and yields well, and its appearance makes it attractive for farmstand operators. It has a long harvest period and resistance to powdery mildew and Fusarium races 0, 1 and 2.

Visa matures early. Slightly oval in shape, its thick, green flesh contains high amounts of sugar. The strong, vigorous vine produces well and is widely adapted. A Galia type from Hollar Seeds and Loy, Visa is suitable for both outdoor and greenhouse production. It tolerates powdery mildew races 1 and 2.

Small melons offer big taste

AM-04-16, weighing just 1 to 1.5 pounds, has ivory-colored flesh with a golden to orange rind. A mini Ananas hybrid bred by D. Palmer Seed Co., it also tolerates Fusarium wilt races 0, 1 and 2, powdery mildew races 1 and 2, and Alternaria.

Lil’ Loupe, a round personal-size cantaloupe bred by Abbott and Cobb, has dark orange, flavorful flesh. It resists Fusarium races 0 and 2, and powdery mildew races 1 and 2.

Mini Musketeers, by D. Palmer Seed Co., tolerate both Fusarium wilt and powdery mildew. This mixture of 4 to 5-inch honeydew melons contains three types—yellow rind and ivory flesh, ivory rind and ivory flesh, and yellow rind with green flesh. These very sweet melons all mature early. They tolerate Fusarium wilt and powdery mildew.

Hollar Seeds’ Pixie has orange, firm, sweet flesh with the flavor of a Galia melon, and weighs 1.5 to 2.2 pounds. Trialed as HSR 4327, this hybrid’s sugar content is consistent. It also tolerates powdery mildew.

Tasty Bites, another D. Palmer Seed Co. melon, features very small fruit with a light cavity. Its pale yellow shell and orange flesh contrast with its green outer rind. Its tropical flavor boasts a brix of 15. This hybrid was developed by a charentais/ananas cross. Highly productive, it tolerates Fusarium wilt races 1 and 2, powdery mildew race 1 and Alternaria.

The cultivars can be obtained through dealers; most are listed on the breeders’ Web sites. In addition to the university breeders mentioned, Dr. Xuemei Zhang of Hollar Seeds, and Dr. Gene Lester and Dr. James McCreight of ARS, USDA contributed information.

The author is a writer-researcher in central Pennsylvania.