Interested in trying something deliciously different in your kitchen garden? Try the French Charentais melon! Charentais melons – Cucumis melo ‘Charentais’ – are true cantaloupes, unlike their American muskmelon cousins – Cucumis melo. Charentais melons are sweet like the American variety, but they don’t have a muskmelon flavor. In a nutshell, they’re much smaller, more delicious and very rewarding to grow.

Charantais melon on vine

The melons start out small and green, but will grow lighter as they mature.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Baby Charantais melon

Wait until the weather has warmed a bit to plant your Charentais melon seeds.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Charentais vine

Your melon plants will sprout and grow very quickly.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Until recently, most companies that stocked this melon charged very high prices for the seeds. In the last few years, however, several seed companies have started to carry them at a reasonable price – and they’re carrying several varieties.

You should wait until the weather warms up a bit before planting your Charentais seeds. (They don’t like cold weather, so be sure that the last frost has already passed.) When that time arrives, you can get out in your garden to prep it for your melons. Mix compost and a balanced fertilizer into the soil, digging several inches into the ground to loosen it. Cantaloupes need sun to produce fruit, so make sure your plants have at least 6 hours of sun.

Charentais melons are planted in a group – typically called a “hill.” This doesn’t mean that you have to raise the soil, but you should mound it 1-2 inches higher than grade to ensure good drainage. This “hill” method also means planting several seeds in one spot. So drop in two or three seeds 1 inch deep, then cover them with soil, followed by a nice layer of mulch to hold in moisture and keep down weeds.

The melon is also a good candidate for growing vertically on a strong supportive structure. Not only does this add a lovely accent to your kitchen garden, but using a structure can actually help protect your melons from insects. Because Charentais is a sweet fruit, it often attracts ants and other insects that bore into the melon from the ground. (If you grow the vines on the ground, consider elevating the melons to protect them.)

Whether you grow the fruit on the ground or up in the air, just be prepared for lots of vines! Charentais is a very aggressive grower, producing many long vines, so it needs a lot of room – especially if you don’t grow it vertically.

Charentais melons typically take 70-90 days to mature. Some companies that sell the plant recommend only allowing three melons to grow on each vine at one time to get the best fruit. Once you pick the mature fruit, the vines will produce more.

Most of the melons will only grow to the size of a softball, or about 2 pounds. Look at the color of the rind to determine if yours are ripe. They’ll take on a yellowish hue at maturity. (I threw my first ripe melon away, thinking it was rotten!) Also note that you need to remove Charentais melons from the vine – if you wait until they drop, the fruit will be overripe.

Just like American cantaloupes and muskmelons, the Charentais is delicious by itself and fantastic with other fruit. Just cut it from the rind and mix with other fruit of the season. No matter how you slice it, it’s a sweet, tasty and healthy low-cal treat – right from your garden. C’est manifique!