Crash Course in Melon Breeding

“I would like to plant two types of muskmelon, maybe Fastbreak and Crenshaw. Approximately what distance would these need to be apart in order to reduce cross hybridization in the fruit’s seeds? Or would cross pollination produce a positive effect in the next season’s fruit?

I am also interested in a similar situation with muskmelon and cucumber,
which I imagine if they were to cross would have a more dramatic effect on
the next season’s fruit that a cross of two different muskmelons.

Thank you and I really enjoy reading your blog,



Hi Boyd,

Thank you for the email regarding your cucumbers and melons.  From the tone of your email, I guess I’m not sure if you are interested in the fruits you
will potentially harvest this summer or plan to save seed and plant them
next year?

For fruits that will grow this year from the Fastbreak and Crenshaw plants,
they will be Fastbreak and Crenshaw melons, respectively.  Having them next
to each other will not do anything to alter the makeup of the plants that
grow this summer or the tissue of the fruit that is eaten.  The part of the
plant that would be affected is areas where the pollen from a different
plant would be: the seeds.

If you plan to save the seed, Fastbreak will not come back true.  It is a
hybrid, meaning that many different varieties of melon have been crossed
over successive generations to make that variety the particular way it is.
To put it in terms of humans, your ancestors all had a part in making you.
However, assuming that you could self-pollinate like a plant (essentially
reproduce with yourself), you would not be able to produce identical clones
of yourself.  The same goes for hybrid plants.

As for the muskmelons, the only way to have them not potentially cross
pollinate while being grown without any special conditions is to plant them
1 mile or more apart.  Of course, I’m sure this is not a feasible option
unless you own a vast estate!  The reason why so much distance is needed is
because muskmelons are pollinated by bees, which on average will travel up
to a mile to find flowers for food sources.  (Research shows that it can be
as high as 4 miles, but about 75% of travel is at 1 mile or under).

In order to have two varieties of melons relatively close together and not
have them cross, you have to do one of the following if you plan to save the
1.  Cage the plants.  You build a mesh cage around each particular variety.
The gage of the cage cover must be small enough to prevent insect from the
outside getting in but still allow sun, rain, wind, etc. to get in.  Inside
the cage, a beehive is placed so the bees can do the work for you.  One of
the best resources for setting up a system like this is Seed Savers Exchange
in Decorah, IA.
2.  Hand pollination.  This requires a lot of time.  The night before a
bloom is going to open, it is ‘clipped’.  By clipped, I mean that a new
(unused/twisted up) twister tie is pinched over the top to prevent the
flower from opening in the morning.  The flower is not removed from the
plant.  Both male and female flowers are clipped (usually 2-3 males per
female flower).  The male has a thin stem, while the female flower has a
very tiny, immature fruit right below the flower.  In the morning, once the
dew has dried, the male flowers are removed from the plant.  The clips are
removed from both male and female flower.  The petals are taken off the male
flower so the anthers and pollen are exposed.  The pollen is rubbed on the
stigma of the female flower (the green part inside).  The female flower is
reclipped and allowed to grow.  It is usually best to do this procedure
before noon, as the heat of the day will make the pollen unviable.  For more
information on this method, I recommend contacting the USDA Cucumber and
Melon Breeding team at UW-Madison’s Horticulture Department.

If you grow your two varieties next to each other, just like normal, and
save the seeds, there may be the potential that you would develop a better
melon.  What will happen is called segregation.  If you were to plant 100
seeds saved from this year’s melon crop, you could potentially have 100
different types of plants.  Granted, most of the distinguishing
characteristics may not matter: depth of green color, leaf type, internode
length, number of branches per plant, days to maturity, etc.  Other
distinguishing characteristics will matter: taste, sugar content, texture,
sugar levels, juiciness, etc.  Depending on hour the genes combine, there is
a LOT of potential that could occur!

As for cucumbers and melons, they do not cross.  The reason is because they
are two different species: Cucumis sativus and Cucumis melo, respectively.
Although they share similar qualities, their pollen is incompatible with
each other.

I hope this information helps you out.  Plant breeding is a fun hobby to
have.  I’ve done a lot of cucumber and melon breeding and can honestly say
that it is very interesting and a lot of fun to watch what you develop.




© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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