Signs of the Season Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida

Signs of the Season Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida

Cantaloupe Thrive in Florida’s Warm Climate 

by ERIKA ALDRICH
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida

It’s that time of year when sweet cantaloupe is fresh from the Florida field, ready to add flavor and a generous serving of vitamins and minerals to your smoothies, fruit salads, and other dishes. While the Sunshine State is not the largest producer of cantaloupe, these watermelon relatives are available from March to July from Florida. 

The Origins of Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe is a muskmelon in the Cucurbitaceae or gourd family, making it a relative of watermelon, squash, pumpkin and zucchini. Its origins are murky, and it’s believed cantaloupe could have originated anywhere between Africa and South Asia. The North American cantaloupe, C. melo var. reticulatus, is different from the European variety, featuring a “netlike” rind that is not palatable.

It’s believed that cantaloupe came to North America in the late 1800s as a commercial crop. Cantaloupe prefers a warm growing climate and is typically grown in the southern half of the country, with California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia and Florida producing the most cantaloupe.

Cantaloupe in Florida

In Florida, cantaloupe is grown in all parts of the state, but production is highest in Central Florida and Northern Florida. Cantaloupe requires fertile, well-drained slightly acidic sandy or silt soil and ample heat and irrigation, according to the National IPM Database (IPM Data) citing the USDA. Since cantaloupe can be prone to rotting and humidity-loving pests and diseases, it’s largely grown in Florida before the wet season gets fully underway.

Cantaloupe can be grown by direct seeding or by transplants. Many growers utilize a full-bed plastic mulch system and irrigation to grow cantaloupe, following the melon’s harvest with another crop like tomato, pepper, or strawberry, according to IPM Data information from Extension sources. Such growing systems help to control irrigation and reduce weeds, pests and diseases.

According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2020 State Agriculture Overview for Florida, our state planted 2,000 acres of cantaloupe in 2020 and harvested 1,900 acres. The yield was 240 CWT an acre for a total production of 456,000 CWT. Growers earned $30.2 per CWT for a total production value of $13,756,000.

Comparatively, Florida planted 2,300 acres of cantaloupe in 2017 and harvested 2,200 acres. Yield was 260 CWT an acre, and the total production for the year was 572,000 CWT. With prices at only $18 per CWT, the 2017 cantaloupe harvest was worth $10,296,000 in total production value.

The Nutritional Value of Cantaloupe

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, cantaloupe is a smart, healthy addition to any meal. Whether eaten alone alongside breakfast or as a snack, or added to smoothies, salads, or other dishes, cantaloupe is packed with vitamins and minerals. Cantaloupes are high in both vitamin C and potassium, with the latter helping to lower blood pressure, ease muscle cramps, and assist the body in maintaining an optimal fluid balance.

Enjoying Cantaloupe

While cantaloupe can be enjoyed fresh off the rind, its mildly sweet flavor pairs well with other fruits, lime, yogurt, cottage cheese and mint. 

FDACS maintains that to choose the perfect cantaloupe, make sure it’s free of cracks, mold and soft spots. A ripe cantaloupe should have a sweet scent at room temperature. Lastly, the netlike rind of a cantaloupe can harbor bacteria, so make sure to wash and scrub it thoroughly before cutting.