I am growing cantaloupe in my home garden in Abilene TX and striving for quality over quantity. I assume that cutting off some of the smaller fruits will make the remaining ones sweeter and more flavorful -- but I don't want to cut off more of them than I need to. My older plants have 4 to 6 "primary" vines branching off of the root vine within a few inches of where it comes out of the ground. Each of these vines, including secondary and tertiary branches, now extends out about 5' from the root. About half of the primary vines have a large, almost-ripe fruit within a foot or two of the root, and all of them have another 4-6+ younger fruits further out, ranging in size from smaller than a marble to about softball size.
I have cut off any young melons (usually smaller than a ping-pong ball) that turned yellow, on the assumption that they wouldn't grow into good quality mature melons. Is this the best thing to do with them, or will the vines re-absorb nutrients from them if I just let them wither?
Also, where I have found two smaller, healthy fruits of about the same size growing within a foot or so of each other on the same vine, I have cut one of them off on the theory that the remaining one will ripen sweeter if it doesn't have competition for sugars from another melon so close maturing at the same time. Do I need to be even more aggressive in cutting off smaller fruit? For example, if I find two of about the same size growing on different "secondary" vines off of the same "primary" vine, should I cut one of them off? Or should I only allow one fruit of any given size to continue growing on the entire plant, so that there is only one melon in the final stage of ripening at any given time?
As more of my cantaloupe plants stgart bearing fruit, it's probably going to become impractical to keep track of which primary vine a given melon is growing on more than a few feet from the root. Is there any rule of thumb I can use for culling out unwanted fruit, that is not too labor intensive.
Thanks in advance for your help.
Muskmelon fruit size can be increased by pruning but usually it is not needed. Pruning the ones off that you feel will not make fruit is acceptable. The melons on the primary vines will be most productive and you can thin those on the secondary and tertiary vines as you feel needed. you are correct that the fewer the melons the less dilution of the sugars to a point. There is no rule of thumb. Some people do not prune while others feel that pruning may give them fewer melons but better quality. It is really dependent on available nutrition and individual situations.