Melons belong to the cucurbit family. This includes zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins and cucumbers. Since they are closely related, the growth requirements for melons are similar to pumpkins, cucumbers or squash. However, melons will not cross-pollinate with these fruits.
Sugar content determines the quality of the melon. Good sugar content is accomplished by eliminating stress throughout the growing season. Insect pests, poor nutrition, lack of or to much water, and weeds all produce stress.
Melons grow best in sunny, hot places with well drained, fertile soils, and can be either direct seeded or transplanted. Transplanting can increase the growing season 2 to 4 weeks. However melons are especially vulnerable to root disturbance. Growth will be stunted if transplants are not handled properly.
Temperatures between 70 and 90ÂºF are best for melons, but they can be planted when soil temperature is over 65ÂºF. Planting in cooler temperatures risks root diseases. This can stunt melons that are intolerant to cold. The usual planting date is 7 to 10 days prior to the frost free date. The actual date varies by latitude.
Plant seeds one half to one inch deep. Plant groups of two or three seeds 18 to 24 inches apart inside the row. Later, keep only the best plant in each group. Leave five to six feet between rows.
In the last week of April, approximately two to four weeks before the transplant date, sow seed indoors. Transplants need well developed roots and should have two or three mature leaves when they are transferred to the garden. Plant seeds in biodegradable containers that may be directly placed into the soil. This helps to eliminate damage and root disturbance. For early maturity, plant seedlings two feet apart in plastic mulch.
To protect transplants and seedlings from insects and cool temperatures use fabric covers or plastic tunnels. Covers keep pollinating insects away from the flowers and can increase the temperature surrounding the plant. When the threat of frost has passed remove covers to allow pollinating insects access and to avoid plant injury from high temperatures.
Plastic mulch conserves moisture, warms the soil, allows earlier planting, controls weeds and decreases ground rot. Using plastic mulch with transplants, instead of planting on bare ground, usually results in early harvest. Proper installation is vital if you are to reap the advantages of plastic mulch. To start, lay a soaker hose or drip irrigation on the soil. Offset drip tap two to three inches from the center. For optimal results, install plastic mulch over raised beds. Lay mulch at the hottest time of day and be certain that it is tightly stretched across the soil and free of wrinkles. Lay plastic, securing the sides with soil around the raised bed, and cut holes for the plants. With row covers and plastic mulches, plants or seeds can be set out approximately 14 days prior to the last frost date.
Natural mulches such as straw or wood chips may also be used to grow melons. However do not use natural mulches until soil is over 75ÂºF.
Frequent, shallow cultivation will prevent weeds from becoming a problem. Melon roots lie near the soil surface, so it is crucial not to cultivate too close to the plants or too deeply. When cultivating, only go as deep as necessary to cut the weeds off below the soil surface. Keep on cultivating for as long as possible without harming the vines, usually until the vines start to spread between the rows. Once cultivating becomes impossible, manually remove large weeds.
Water infrequently and deeply, one to two inches a week. When possible, use deep irrigation. Be certain to thoroughly soak the soil when watering. Light watering that just wets the soil surface is useless. As the fruits ripen, decrease watering to increase flavor. It is vital to water evenly, particularly in the last couple weeks of growth. Watering to much at this point can result in cracked fruits.
Flowers and Pollination
Pumpkin, cucumbers, watermelon and squash have separate female and male flowers. Muskmelon has two flowers, complete flowers (having female and male parts), and male flowers. Muskmelon flowers have a pollination span of one day. Pollen needs to be transported from the male flower to the female flower within this day for seed set and fruit production.