Evaluating Suitability of Open-Pollinated Melon Varieties for Intensive Organic Production

Final Report for FNE10-699

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2010: $4,093.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Alice Percy
Treble Ridge Farm
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Project Information

Summary:

A two-year organic trial of eighteen varieties of open-pollinated melons and two varieties of hybrid melons, all short-season types (80 or fewer days) showed a wide variety in performance. Several varieties showed excellent potential for profitable production in the short, cool seasons of the Northeast. Top performers (showing the best combination of yield, flavor, and reliability) included Early Silver Line, Iroquois, Early Hanover, and Green Nutmeg.

Introduction:

In 2010 and 2011 Treble Ridge Farm performed a SARE-funded test of eighteen varieties of open-pollinated, mostly heirloom melons, as well as two varieties of hybrid melons that have performed well in the duplicated trials at the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire. Eric Sideman, the Crop Specialist at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardners Association, and Mark Hutton, from the University of Maine Extension, served as advisors on the project.

Project Objectives:

Our goal was to identify open-pollinated melons that perform well in our climate under organic management.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Mark Hutton
  • Eric Sideman

Research

Materials and methods:

The melons were seeded in an unheated greenhouse (on May 1 in 2010, on May 8 in 2011) into OMRI-approved biodegradable peat pots (DOT pots) full of a MOFGA-approved organic potting soil mix. I used Living Acres Komplete NP Germination Mix in 2010, but due to significant germination problems, Eric Sideman recommended switching to Vermont Compost Fort V mix in 2011, which resulted in nearly 100% germination in all but one variety (Greely’s Wonder) for 2011. Both years the potting soil was combined with 10% OMRI-approved worm castings (Wiggle Worm Soil Builder Earthworm Castings 1-0-0). Eighteen pots were sown with three seeds each for each variety.

While the seedlings grew in the greenhouse, a MOFGA-approved commercial compost (Living Acres Kompost-1 1.5-6-2) was spread in the field at 150# per 1000 sq ft and covered with 3’ black plastic mulch in rows 6’ on center.

Seedlings were thinned to one plant per pot and transplanted through the plastic mulch in their pots on May 21 in 2010 and on June 7 in 2011. Transplants were watered in with 8 oz of a 1:64 dilution of OMRI-approved fish/kelp emulsion. As many varieties did not produce viable seedlings in fifteen or more pots in 2010, I was unable to plant full five-plant blocks of each variety to improve the statistical significance of the production data. Because we had a different number of plants for each variety in 2010, and to make the results comparable between the two years, results are expressed as the average per plant instead of per block. In 2010, a few weeks after tranpslanting the plants were foliar fed with a 1:128 dilution of fish/kelp emulsion. However, for most of the summer the daytime temperatures were too high for effective foliar feeding. No foliar feeding was conducted in 2011.

For each variety, we recorded total yield by weight and number of melons and total marketable yield (total weight minus the weight of any melons that were bruised, softened, mouse-eaten, moldy, ridiculously undersized, or horrendously ugly). Three melons of each variety were cut up and served to a panel of eight people for a blind taste testing; panelists were asked to rate each variety on a scale from 1 (“I wish I hadn’t put that in my mouth”) to 5 (“I just died and went to melon heaven”). All varieties were taste-tested in 2010; the later varieties were not taste-tested in 2011 due to a miscommunication with an employee, who boxed up the tasting melons and sold them at market. Three different melons from each variety were tested for sugar content (a few varieties did not get Brix ratings in 2010 because they stopped producing unusually early and we didn’t have any specimens on hand by the time we performed these tests). The results of all these measurements, plus other comments, are reported alphabetically by variety below. Each pair of bracketed numbers indicates results in 2010 and 2011. Following the variety details are rankings of the varieties along several parameters, using the average value from both years.

Research results and discussion:

2010 was hardly a “test year” for melons in Maine. We experienced plenty of sunshine and heat, and the melons responded with early production and high yields. The melon harvest began on the last day of July, and from about 500 row feet of melons planted, we harvested nearly 1500# of marketable fruits – 50% higher than the expected average yield listed in Knott’s Vegetable Handbook. Many of the heirloom varieties showed great potential for commercial production, although a cooler season will be necessary to test their potential in less optimum conditions. Other varieties appeared less suitable for market growers due to poor production, poor flavor, or a strong tendency toward imperfections. A common defect among the heirlooms was a readiness to soften, which limits their usefulness in a commercial setting due to poor shelf life and losses during transportation. 2010 germination performance for each variety is reported under the variety results: varieties with “excellent” germination produced viable seedlings in 15-18 pots, varieties with “good” germination produced viable seedlings in 12-15 pots, varieties with “fair” germination produced viable seedlings in 9-12 pots, and varieties with “poor” germination produced viable seedlings in fewer than 9 pots. In most cases of poor germination, symptoms of damping-off were visible. “Good” or “excellent” germination results may indicate varietal tolerance to pythium.

2011 presented more challenging weather. June was slightly cooler and wetter than normal, and August was also quite wet with average temperatures. Periods of heavy rainfall led to intense disease pressure, which significantly lowered total yields and Brix readings compared to 2010. Lower temperatures did not seem to affect the speed of ripening. All varieties produced their first fruit within a week of the date in which they produced fruit in 2010, despite being seeded and transplanted later. Numerical data are also displayed separately in the table.

Ashkahabad

Germination: Poor Start of Harvest: [9/10][none] End of Harvest: [9/10][n/a]

Fruits/Plant:[1.0][0] Average Weight: [3.82#][ND] % Marketable: [79%][n/a]

Brix: [5.5][ND] Flavor Rating: [3.3][ND] MY/Plant: [3.00#][0#]

Comments: We did harvest some fruit in 2010 but due to low Brix numbers and a greenish cast on the rind it is likely that they were not truly ripe. No fruit even approached ripeness in 2011. Sand Hill Preservation, our seed source, mentioned that while Ashakahabad is rated as a short-season variety it does need very hot weather to thrive.

Burrell’s Jumbo

Germination: Exc. Start of Harvest: [8/13] [8/20] End of Harvest: [9/3] [9/7]

Fruits/Plant: [3.2][1] Average Weight: [2.79#][2.01#] % Marketable: [68%][54%]

Brix: [9.6][6.7] Flavor Rating: [3.4][3.3] MY/Plant: [6.1#][1.1#]

Comments: Apparently “Jumbo” was a misnomer for this variety, at least under our conditions. Formed ordinary-sized oblong attractive fruit with full coverage of light netting. Obtained good flavor ratings despite mediocre sugar content. Market loss most commonly due to mold on the rind.

Early Hanover

Germination: Exc. Start of Harvest: [8/10][8/12] End of Harvest: [8/26][8/30]

Fruits/Plant: [5.2][2.1] Average Weight: [2.11#][1.46#] % Marketable: [51%][49%]

Brix: [10.5][6.9] Flavor Rating: [3.4][2.7] MY/Plant: [5.6#][3.0#]

Comments: Greatly resembled the larger, more heavily ribbed and netted specimens of Minnesota Midget. Extremely susceptible to softening. High marketable yields could possibly be obtained through daily picking. The fruit should be picked at forced slip rather than full slip to ensure better flavor and the ability to travel from field to market without dissolving into a pile of mush.

Early Silver Line

Germination: Good Start of Harvest: [7/31][8/8] End of Harvest: [8/29][8.30]

Fruits/Plant: [7.5][2.8] Average Weight: [1.53#][1.26#] % Marketable: [68%][58%]

Brix: [8.1][8.5;] Flavor Rating: [2.1][3.6] MY/Plant: [7.9#][2.0#]

Comments: Attractive fruit are oblong, smooth yellow rind striped with white. Crisp white flesh. Popular with customers due to unusual appearance. Market loss commonly due to splitting or mouse damage. Early Silver Line distinguished itself as the ONLY variety to have higher Brix in 2011 than in 2010. Gained the highest taste ratings of the open-pollinated varieties tested in 2011 as well.

Greely’s Wonder

Germination: Poor Start of Harvest: [8/17][8/20] End of Harvest: [8/26][9/2]

Fruits/Plant: [2.4][0.8] Average Weight: [6.60#][4.1#] % Marketable: [54%][55%]

Brix: [9.3][5.6] Flavor Rating: [2.8][3.1] MY/Plant: [8.5#][1.9#]

Comments: Roundish, lopsided fruit have a thin, smooth rind and very soft, juicy orange flesh. Would be very difficult to transport – like handling a 6# ripe peach. Also received poor flavor ratings due to its extreme juiciness, described by many as “watery”. Market loss most commonly due to softening.

Green Nutmeg

Germination: Fair Start of Harvest: [8/23][8/20] End of Harvest: [9/3][9/7]

Fruits/Plant: [3.5][1.5] Average Weight: [1.83#][1.2#] % Marketable: [52%][74%]

Brix: [11.1][6.4] Flavor Rating: [4.4][ND] MY/Plant: [3.3#][2.0#]

Comments: Small, oblong fruit with full coverage of delicate netting and green flesh. By far the highest-rated of the green-fleshed melons in 2010, although some tasters complained of a “mushy” texture. Market loss most commonly due to softening.

Halona (HYBRID)

Germination: Fair Start of Harvest: [8/10][8/12] End of Harvest: [8/29][8/27]

Fruits/Plant: [2][1.4] Average Weight: [3.87#][2.3#] % Marketable: [62%][59%]

Brix: [ND][7.6] Flavor Rating: [2.5][4.0] MY/Plant: [4.8#][1.9#]

Comments: This top performer in University of Maine trials was bested by most of the open-pollinated varieties in the 2010 trial but fared better (relative to the competition) in 2011, especially in terms of quality – rated highest for flavor among the varieties tested in 2011 after being rated quite poorly in 2010. Market loss most commonly due to splitting.

Honey Rock

Germination: Fair Start of Harvest: [8/17][8/20] End of Harvest: [8/29][9/2]

Fruits/Plant: [2.9][1.3] Average Weight: [2.43#][1.2#] % Marketable: [89%][93%]

Brix: [13.1][6.2] Flavor Rating: [4.0][2.5] MY/Plant: [6.3#][1.4#]

Comments: Fruit was very sweet and of excellent quality in 2010, but disappointing in 2011. In both years market losses were very small, as the variety boasts a practically impenetrable rind. Round fruit with netting that is very coarse and heavy, providing a distinctive look.

Iroquois

Germination: Exc. Start of Harvest: [8/17][8/23] End of Harvest: [9/3][9/7]

Fruits/Plant: [3.1][1.2] Average Weight: [3.33#][1.99#] % Marketable: [56%][60%]

Brix: [11.7][8.8] Flavor Rating: [4.7][ND] MY/Plant: [5.8#][1.5#]

Comments: Oblong, netted fruit resemble Burrell’s Jumbo but are somewhat larger. Top-rated for flavor in 2010, unfortunately no data for 2011 but high Brix figures in 2011 compared to the other varieties. Among the varieties that tested very high for Brix in 2010, Iroquois’ Brix numbers suffered the smallest drop in 2011. Market loss most commonly due to small mold spots on the rind.

Jenny Lind

Germination: Exc Start of Harvest: [8/17][8/17] End of Harvest: [8/26][8/30]

Fruits/Plant: [4.0][1.3] Average Weight: [3.18#][2.9#] % Marketable: [47%][47%]

Brix: [12.1][7.9] Flavor Rating: [3.1][2.3] MY/Plant: [5.9#][1.8#]

Comments: Fruit are heavily netted and shaped like a butternut squash, with green flesh. Did not obtain particularly good flavor ratings despite high sugar content. Tasters complained of an “earthy” or “musky” flavor. Market loss due to a strong tendency to soften on the button end.

Maverick (HYBRID)

Germination: Exc. Start of Harvest: [8/13][8/17] End of Harvest: [8/17][8/23]

Fruits/Plant: [3.1][1.8] Average Weight: [3.32#][1.6#] % Marketable: [70%][77%]

Brix: [11.3][7.5] Flavor Rating: [3.1][3.4] MY/Plant: [7.3#][2.2#]

Comments: Fared much better than Halona in this trial. Market loss most commonly due to splitting.

Minnesota Midget

Germination: Exc. Start of Harvest: [8/6][8/12] End of Harvest: [8/26][8/20]

Fruits/Plant: [6.6][2.8] Average Weight: [1.41#][.7#] % Marketable: [76%][72%]

Brix: [9.1][ND] Flavor Rating: [3.3][2.5] MY/Plant: [7.1#][1.5#]

Comments: Appearance highly variable, with fruit ranging from ½ lb to 2 lbs, varying degrees of netting and varying degrees of ribbing, shape ranging from round to oblong to somewhat flattened in the more heavily ribbed specimens. Would benefit from breeding for improved stability. Market loss commonly due to softening.

Noir des Carmes

Germination: Exc. Start of Harvest: [8/10][8/17] End of Harvest: [8/26][8/27]

Fruits/Plant: [3.5][1.1] Average Weight: [4.21#][1.0#] % Marketable: [0%][7%]

Brix: [6.6][5.6] Flavor Rating: [2.1][2.6] MY/Plant: [0#][.1#]

Comments: This melon, highly praised in catalog descriptions, proved to be uncommonly ugly and of poor quality in this trial. While it matured early and produced well here, it probably needs more heat to live up to its potential. The smooth rind was invariably marred by a rough, unattractive fungal infection that rendered the fruit unmarketable.

Oka

Germination: Exc. Start of Harvest: [8/17][8/23] End of Harvest: [8/29][9/2]

Fruits/Plant: [2.7][1.0] Average Weight: [3.27#][2.9#] % Marketable: [70%][52%]

Brix: [8.4][7.3] Flavor Rating: [3.1][ND] MY/Plant: [6.3#][1.5#]

Comments: Turban-shaped fruit, occasionally with a button on the blossom end, unusual slate-colored smooth rind with varying amounts of light netting. Market losses most commonly due to defects in the rind.

Pear

Germination: Exc. Start of Harvest: [8/23][8/27] End of Harvest: [9/3][9/7]

Fruits/Plant: [1.7][0.3] Average Weight: [4.88#][3.7#] % Marketable: [69%][100%]

Brix: [8.5][6.4] Flavor Rating: [3.3][ND] MY/Plant: [5.7#][1.2#]

Comments: Long, tan, sutured fruits resemble giant Delicata squash. Thin-walled flesh and large seed cavity makes the fruit light for their size (often as long as 18”). Market loss most commonly due to sun-scald.

Prescott Fond Blanc

Germination: Good Start of Harvest: [8/17][8/20] End of Harvest: [9/3][9/2]

Fruits/Plant: [1.5][0.4] Average Weight: [4.06#][2.3#] % Marketable: [59%][16%]

Brix: [9.9][5.3] Flavor Rating: [2.1][3.5] MY/Plant: [3.7#][0.2#]

Comments: Flattened, lumpy salmon-pink fruits are certainly set apart from “normal” melons but unfortunately not in the departments of yield or quality. While it was sometimes difficult to discern the difference between rind defects and the normal degree of rind ugliness, rind defects were the most common cause of market loss.

Susan Healy

Germination: Poor Start of Harvest: [8/17][8/17] End of Harvest: [8/26][9/2]

Fruits/Plant: [2.3][0.8] Average Weight: [4.28#][2.2#] % Marketable: [45%][47%]

Brix: [10.5][6.4] Flavor Rating: [3.1][2.8] MY/Plant: [4.4#][0.8#]

Comments: Oblong pinkish fruits with a light but coarse-textured netting. Market loss most commonly due to splitting and misshapen fruit.

Sweet Granite

Germination: Fair Start of Harvest: [8/6][8/8] End of Harvest: [8/26][8/27]

Fruits/Plant: [4][1.7] Average Weight: [2.41#][1.6#] % Marketable: [40%][25%]

Brix: [ND][7.1] Flavor Rating: [2.4][2.2] MY/Plant: [3.8#][0.7#]

Comments: Smooth orange rind and soft orange flesh, football-shaped. Irregular, somewhat unattractive appearance. Market loss commonly due to softening or mouse damage.

Tigger

Germination: Good Start of Harvest: [8/13][8/12] End of Harvest: [9/3][9.7]

Fruits/Plant: [3.8][1.2] Average Weight: [1.30#][1.1#] % Marketable: [64%][26%]

Brix: [6.4][4.9] Flavor Rating: [1.5][3.0] MY/Plant: [3.1#][0.3]

Comments: Showstoppingly beautiful fruit are a round and smooth, glowing orange with lighter orange zigzag stripes. Crisp white flesh is not highly flavorful despite being plesantly aromatic, although some specimens are respectably sweet. It’s really all about the looks here anyway. Market loss most commonly due to splitting, especially in 2011; in 2010 fruit also exhibited an abnormality causing some fruit to be all yellow.

Valencia Winter Melon

Germination: Poor Start of Harvest: [9/10][9/7] End of Harvest: [9/10][9/7]

Fruits/Plant: [0.80][0.2] Average Weight: [5.98#][3.7#] % Marketable: [86%][60%]

Brix: [13.5][6.8] Flavor Rating: [4.2][ND] MY/Plant: [4.1#][0.4#]

Comments: Teardrop-shaped fruit are heavily wrinkled with a smooth dark-green rind. White flesh fades to pale salmon at the seed cavity. Harvest when axillary leaf has died back and ground spot attains a creamy color, as fruit will not slip from vine.

Marketable Yield per Plant, from Lowest to Highest (Two-Year Average):
Percentage indicates 2011 harvest as a percentage of the 2010 harvest. Higher percentages may indicate greater reliability from year to year in marketable yields.

Noir des Carmes (0.1#) 100%
Ashkahabad (1.5#) 0%
Tigger (1.7#) 10%
Prescott Fond Blanc (2.0#) 5%
Sweet Granite (2.3#) 18%
Valencia Winter (2.3#) 10%
Green Nutmeg (2.6#) 61%
Susan Healy (2.6#) 18%
Halona* (3.4#) 40%
Pear (3.5#) 21%
Burrell’s Jumbo (3.6#)
Iroquois (3.7#) 26%
Jenny Lind (3.9#) 31%
Oka (3.9#) 24%
Honey Rock (3.9#) 22%
Early Hanover (4.3#) 54%
Minnesota Midget (4.3#) 21%
Maverick* (4.8#) 30%
Early Silver Line (5.0#) 25%
Greely’s Wonder (5.2#) 22%

Average Brix, from Lowest to Highest:

Tigger (5.7)
Noir des Carmes (6.1)
Pear, Greely’s Wonder (7.5)
Prescott Fond Blanc (7.6)
Oka (7.9)
Burrell’s Jumbo (8.2)
Early Silver Line (8.3)
Susan Healy (8.5&)
Early Hanover (8.7)
Green Nutmeg (8.8)
Minnesota Midget (9.1)
Maverick* (9.4)
Honey Rock (9.7)
Jenny Lind (10.0)
Valencia Winter Melon (10.2)
Iroquois (10.3)

2010 Data Only
Ashkahabad (5.5)
Minnesota Midget (9.1)

2011 Data Only
Sweet Granite (7.1)
Halona* (7.6)

Average Fruit Size, from Lowest to Highest:

Minnesota Midget (1.1#)
Tigger (1.20#)
Early Silver Line (1.4#)
Green Nutmeg (1.5#)
Early Hanover, Honey Rock (1.8#)
Sweet Granite (2.0#)
Burrell’s Jumbo (2.4#)
Maverick* (2.5#)
Noir des Carmes (2.6#)
Iroquois (2.7#)
Jenny Lind (3.0#)
Oka, Halona* (3.1#)
Prescott Fond Blanc, Susan Healy (3.2#)
Pear (4.3#)
Valencia Winter Melon (4.8#)
Greely’s Wonder (5.4#)

2010 data only
Ashkahabad (3.8#)

Average Flavor Rating, from Lowest to Highest:
Tigger, Sweet Granite (2.3)
Noir des Carmes (2.4)
Jenny Lind (2.7)
Prescott Fond Blanc (2.8)
Minnesota Midget, Early Silver Line (2.9)
Susan Healy, Greely’s Wonder (3.0)
Early Hanover (3.1)
Honey Rock, Maverick*, Halona* (3.3)
Burrell’s Jumbo (3.4)

2010 data only
Ashkahabad (3.3)
Green Nutmeg (4.4)
Iroquois (4.7)
Oka (3.1)
Pear (3.3)
Valencia Winter Melon (4.2)

Research conclusions:

This project recorded a wide range in performance in short-season melons. Several varieties, despite being rated for a season of 80 or fewer days, failed to perform well in Maine's short, cool seasons, while others produced excellent yields. Although 2010 and 2011 provided different growing conditions, in general the relative performance of the varieties was fairly consistent, lending credence to the results as a prediction of varietal performance from year to year.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Results of this study have been forwarded to Fedco, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and High Mowing Organic Seed, the three major suppliers of seeds to Northeast organic produce farmers. The study will supplement their own trials to help them select high-quality, top-performing melons to offer to their customers. Most of the varieties used in this trial are not currently available from these companies.

I will also present the results of this study in the Ag Demo area of the 2012 Common Ground Country Fair hosted in September (3rd weekend after Labor Day) by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Northeast farmers can use this study to identify open-pollinated melon varieties suitable to their area, from which they can expect a profitable harvest. This will allow farmers in this area an easy way to offer fruit, which is relatively rare at local retail markets, to customers who are eager for something new. By identifying some excellent performers among the varieties that are not currently offered by commercial seed suppliers, the study may also contribute to the preservation of genetic diversity in melons.

Future Recommendations

Based on the results of this study, Treble Ridge Farm will be planting four varieties of open-pollinated melons in 2012: Early Silver Line, Early Hanover, Honey Rock, and Iroquois. Several other varieties also show promise for Northeast farmers wishing to expand their produce offerings with fresh melons.

Unlike the standard hybrids, open-pollinated melons offer the opportunity for on-farm variety improvement. Those interested in such a project will find much valuable genetic material to work with in the varieties used in this study, as well as significant room for improvement. For example, if Minnesota Midget were selected for higher Brix and greater uniformity it could become an excellent item for restaurant sales, for use as "personal sized" melons on dessert menus.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.