Melons, pumpkins and squash are all easy to grow and have similar growth habits, water and fertilizer needs. However they do require a lot of garden space for their vines to spread.
Melons grow best on a deep, well drained, sandy or sandy loam soil with plenty of organic matter. Heavy soils with a lot of clay often cause small, weak plants that produce fewer melons. Melons prefer soils with a neutral pH, and if the soil is too acidic the plants will drop their blossoms.
Apply manure or compost at 50 to 100 pounds per 1,000 square feet, or about 2 to 4 tons per acre, to build the organic matter content of the soil. Turn the soil over so all organic matter is covered completely.
Melons require well drained soils, work the soil into ridges or hills 4 to 8 inches high and 12 to 14 inches wide for planting. Heavier soils require higher ridges.
Place the rows of muskmelons and honeydews 6 to 8 feet apart.
Rows of irrigated watermelons 10 to 12 feet apart, and rows of un-irrigated watermelons 12 to 16 feet apart.
Melons are warm-season crops and are easily injured by frost. Do not plant seeds until the soil warms in the spring and all danger of frost is past. Plant the seeds in hills. Plant groups of six to eight seeds at a depth of 1 to 1-1/2 inches. Fine sandy soils or heavy clay soils often crust when dry, so if the weather is dry after planting, the hill may need moistening to soften the soil.
Melons do best with small amounts of fertilizer in two or three applications. Apply fertilizer in a band along the row for best results.
For watermelons, apply a fertilizer high in phosphorous, such as 10-10-10, at a rate of 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet (60 to 90 feet of row). Make a trench on the planting bed 4 to 6 inches deep and 2 inches from the side of the row. Cover the fertilizer and plant so seeds do not touch the fertilizer. Before the runners on the vines are about 6 inches long, scatter 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer per 60 to 90 feet of row 2 to 3 feet to the side of the row and mix it lightly with the soil.
Fertilize muskmelons and honeydews with 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer for every 60 to 70 feet of row. Phosphorous, the second number on the fertilizer label, is most important for muskmelons at planting, and nitrogen is important when the vines begin to run. Make the second fertilizer application to the side of the row when vines begin to run.
Judging the ripeness of watermelons requires skill and experience. Some signs of ripeness in watermelons are:
Dull sound when thumped. This varies with the gardener and the size and type of melon and often is inaccurate.
Change in color of rind. Ripe melons often lose their glossy color.
Change in color of soil spot. The spot where the melon rests on the soil takes on a creamy, streaked color.
Death or drying of the tendril. The tendril near the point where the melon is attached to the vine dries when ripe. This is the most dependable sign.
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