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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved
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Imagine that tastiest of all foods. It would be sweet and juicy. It would have a wonderful aroma and taste. It would have a melt in your mouth texture. Best of all, you could grow it in your own garden. What fits the description? Melons, of course.
Only home-grown melons qualify for the honor of the best. These are not tasteless, colored fruits that are picked hard and green and shipped hundreds of miles to sit on a store shelf until you take it home. I talking about melons picked at the peak of flavor and taken a few short steps to waiting recipients who anticipate their magnificent flavors. Melons love heat. When other plants are wimping out, melons thrive. Warm days and cool nights are the perfect prescription for delightful treats.
The following is the Sagers Family method of growing melons. If you have never grown good melons in your own garden, follow these suggestions for tasty treats from your garden.
1) Start with the right variety. Growing up, I tried in vain to get melons to ripen. The only seed sold locally came from warm season areas. Varieties like Congo, Striped Klondike, Jubilee, Charleston Gray, and other long season varieties do not ripen here. Look for selected varieties that do well in our area. These include Family Fun,Yellow Baby Hybrid, Mickylee, Minilee, Sweet Favorite Hybrid, Mirage Hybrid, Crimson Sweet, Cal Sweet Yellow Baby Hybrid, and Golden Crown. Most commercial growers in Green River plant Crimson Sweet type melons. They are more round than oblong. The variety grows well with sweet flavorful flesh. It is worth the effort to plant varieties that are adapted to our area. Hybrid seeds are more expensive, but production is usually better.
Selected cantaloupe varieties include Crenshaw, Summet , Burpee Hybrid, Magnum, Ambrosia, Classic, Harper Hybrids, or Mission. Rocky Sweet is an excellent green fleshed variety.
2) Plant at the right time and the right way. Set out seeds or transplants when the soil warms above 70 degrees. Seedless varieties need temperatures above 80 degrees to germinate. Plant seeds 1 2 inches deep.
If you prefer transplants, do not get those that are too large. Start plants inside in peat pots or pellets 3-4 weeks before outside planting date.
Melons do not transplant well from pony packs, or if their roots are disturbed Transplants should not be starting to vine. Those that are stressed or damaged while transplanting seldom produce good vines or fruits.
Space plants 2 3 feet apart in rows spaced 3 6 feet apart. Small fruit types can be planted in rows 3 4 feet apart.
3) Melons need good, well-drained soil. Clay soils do not raise a good crop. If your soil is bad, create raised beds by adding organic matter to improve the drainage and aeration.
4) Melons need full sun and heat. Clear plastic mulches raise soil temperature by as much as 10 degrees. This helps melons come into production two to three weeks earlier than normal.
Besides producing earlier melons, individual melons are larger.
5) Melons need adequate water. They do not name watermelons that for nothing. If they are stressed, they stop growing and do not set fruit. Overwatering fruiting plants causes them to collapse from lack of oxygen. Check the soil moisture regularly and reapply as necessary before the melons start to wilt or go into stress. Allow the top 1 2 inches of soil to dry between watering.
6) Use the right fertilizer. Use a high phosphorus fertilizer to promote fruiting. They need large vines to produce sugars to sweeten the fruits. Weak, neglected vines produce spindly, poor quality fruits. Fertilizer with a ratio of one part nitrogen to four parts phosphorus is ideal at planting. Make your own by mixing fertilizers together or purchase a high phosphorus product.
Add nitrogen 30 and 60 days after planting to keep the vines growing. Large vines result from plenty of water and fertilizer, so allow plenty of room. Minimum spacing essential for all but bush-type melons is two by four feet, but most like even more room. Close planting results in little or no fruit production.
7) Melons are not good competitors. They do not do well if weeds shade them or compete with them for moisture and fertilizer. Remove small weeds to avoid stunting or stressing the melons. Avoid disturbing the root by cultivation as this will weaken the vines and keep them from producing fruit.
Remember that seedless varieties require a pollinating (non seedless) variety close by to produce fruit.
Melons are not the easiest plants to grow, but they are worth the effort. The hot summer days are made a little easier with melons as treats for the perfect refreshment. Plant some this year.