Though they take up considerable space and require a long growing season, many home gardeners can't resist planting a few watermelons and muskmelons. Their basic requirements are full sun and a well-drained soil. Heavy, poorly drained soils can often be improved by incorporating organic matter, such as compost or well- rotted manure, into the soil.
Watermelon and muskmelon are warm-season crops. Plant melons after the danger of frost is past and soil temperatures have warmed to 60 to 70Ã…Â¡F. In central Iowa, melons may be planted in mid-May. Gardeners in southern Iowa can plant about 1 week earlier. Plant 1 week later in northern areas of the state.
Muskmelon and watermelon are normally planted in hills. Plant 4 or 5 seeds per hill at a depth of 1 inch. Later, remove all but 2 or 3 healthy, well-spaced plants per hill when seedlings have 1 or 2 true leaves.
For an earlier crop, melon transplants can be started indoors. Start seeds indoors 2 or 3 weeks before the anticipated outdoor planting date. Peat pots, Jiffy 7's, or other plantable containers work best as both plant and container are transplanted directly into the garden, causing little damage to the plant's root system. Sow 3 or 4 seeds per container, later remove all but 2 seedlings. Transplant outdoors when plants have 1 or 2 true leaves. Harden the plants outdoors for a few days in a protected location prior to planting to lessen transplant stress.
Hills of muskmelon should be spaced 3 to 4 feet apart with 5 feet between rows. Watermelon hills and rows should be spaced 5 to 7 feet apart. If garden space is limited, bush- type varieties of muskmelon and watermelon can be planted.
Home gardeners can promote early melon production by using black plastic mulch.* Black plastic promotes spring growth by warming the soil. The plastic mulch also helps to conserve soil moisture and control weeds. Lay the black plastic over moist soil on a calm day. Anchor the edges of the plastic mulch by making furrows 2 or 3 inches deep, placing the edges in the furrows, then backcovering with soil. To plant, simply cut holes in the plastic with a sharp knife or bulb planter. The holes should be in the center of the plastic film and just large enough to plant the seeds or transplants.
Suggested muskmelon varieties for Iowa include 'Earlisweet' (early, small fruit size), 'Starship' (early to mid-season, excellent size), 'Legend' (mid-season, large uniform fruit), 'Gold Star,' 'Saticoy,' 'Superstar' (early, very large fruit), 'Earlidew' (honeydew type), and 'Venus' (honeydew type). Excellent watermelon varieties include 'Allsweet,' 'Crimson Sweet' (blocky round fruit, 20 to 30 lb.), 'Sangria' (blocky oval fruit, 20 to 26 lb.), 'Carnival' (blocky fruit, 22 to 26 lb.), 'Royal Jubilee' (long oval fruit, 25 to 30 lb.), 'Millionaire' (seedless, oblong, 13 to 20 lb.), and 'Yellow Baby' (yellow flesh, round, 9-12 lb.).
*A note on plastic mulches. Some of the new wavelength sensitive mulches actually warm the soil better than black plastic. However, these materials are not readily available and are quite costly. As a result, black plastic remains the best choice for home gardeners.
This article originally appeared in the April 14, 2000 issue, pp. 31-32.
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