Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Melons in the EC garden

I got an email from a fellow EC gardener asking about how to grow melons and what varieties to grow in the EC Garden. My answer is as follows. I'll try to convert the chart that I mentioned into a Google doc in order to post it. Also I'm hoping to get out to the garden and take some pictures of my newly formed garden beds(I'm still sore!) so you all can see what I mean when I talk about plant spacing and mulching. Check back soon!

Here's the semi-unsolicited melon advice:

Growing melons is surprisingly easy in the EC garden. Our climate and soil are ideal for them. The main challenges I've run into are 1) Planting when the soil is too cold 2) Critters eating my plants and 3) theft

The latter two problems can be solved with a good fence. Rabbits will go for melon vines before anything else in the garden, and melons in the garden often seem to sprout legs and walk away. I plant lots so that I still get some after all the losses.

Melons are a warm season crop and need to be planted later than almost anything else in the garden. The minimum temperature for melon seed germination is 60 F and the ideal soil temperature is 90 F for muskmelons (i.e. canutulopes and honeydews) and 95 for watermelons. I've attached a Google doc with average soil temperature from the cimis weather station 1/4 mile away from the garden so you can figure out what the soil temperature is at a given time of year in the garden.

The minimum soil temperature breaks 60 in mid April, so this is the earliest you can plant melons. You could theoretically plant a little earlier by planting in raised beds or mounds so that the soil gets a little warmer, or by starting seeds in a warm indoor location or in a greenhouse and transplant the plants outside once the soil has warmed up. I don't bother with starting seeds indoors though, because melons are easy to direct sow, and we have such a long warm growing season that waiting a little longer to plant doesn't matter, it's not like the plants are going to get frozen before you get melons in the fall. Also all cucurbits (melons, cukes, squash) are prone to transplant shock

Melons like warm soil and lots of nitrogen, so before planting I dig raised beds or mounds about 8 inches tall and amend them with manure, not the dry rice hull stuff , but a small amount of the nasty green stuff worked into the center of the mound. I soak my melon seeds overnight, then plant clusters of six seeds about 6 feet apart. You have to plant full sized watermelons more like 8 or ten feet apart with equal spread. I recommend small watermelon varieties like icebox or blacktail mountain because it takes a full plot's worth of space to grow big varieties like charelston gray (which are awesome if given space).

When the first true leaves appear, I thin to the strongest 3 plants. I usually irrigate with a drip system, one or two emitters per melon mound. Watermelons are surprisingly drought tollerent and need much less water than other melons. If you don't intend to put in a drip system, form a basin in the soil around your cluster of melon seedlings cover it with rice hull mulch to prevent surface crusting, then to provide sufficient water to the plants fill it 4 or 5 times, letting the water soak in between fillings, each time you hand water (about every other day durning the summer). Watering for all types of melons should be cut drastically when the melons reach full sizeand the rinds start hardening up to prevent splitting. It's also a good idea to put some newspaper or straw under each melon when it starts to size up to keep the underside dry an prevent damage from roly poly bugs.

My favorite melon varieties for the EC garden are:

Charantais-- A french heriloom cantulope: they tend to split open but they have the most amazing flavor
Old original: this is also known as a persian melon, I think. Crispy, very sweet white flesh. They have the seeds at Ace-- Botanical interest brand.
Stutz: seeds of change carries this one
Eel river: also a seeds of change cultivar
Crane: and heirloom from Santa Rosa, Ca. You can get the seeds from Baker Creek

Ice box: Small, Ace wil have it.
Blacktail Mountain: Another small one, and my fave for flavor. Baker creek and Sand hill Preservation have the seeds.
Charelston gray: Huge, WMV resistant and delicious. Needs a full plot's worth of space to grow.

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