No vegetable or fruit says, "summer" like melons. With spring bursting forth all over, the soil drying out and warming up, it's close to melon planting time in many locations. Even if you're growing melons in the North and planting time for warm-season crops like melons is weeks away, there are some tricks you can use to jump-start your melon season.
The first step to a successful melon patch is proper soil preparation. Melons are heavy feeders and like a good supply of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Before planting amend the soil with a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of compost. Based on a soil test, add generous amounts of balanced slow-release fertilizer that will feed the vine throughout the long summer season. Add lime or sulfur to adjust the soil pH to read between 6 and 7. Turn all these amendments under with a spade or tiller.
In addition to cantaloupes and watermelons, there are many unusual types of melons, such as ananas, honeydew, and Israeli, that are exotic, yet easy to grow. Try mixing in some of these types with your traditional 'Earli-Dew' cantaloupe and 'Charleston Gray' watermelon. Check out these options here .
You can plant melons in different ways depending on your garden size and preference. The traditional way to plant melons is in hills, spaced 4 to 6 feet apart. Don't actually raise the soil into hills (unless it's heavy clay and will benefit from the extra water drainage), but work up a 3-foot-wide area and plant 3 to 4 seeds in the area. Once they germinate, thin to 2 seedlings per hill. You can also plant in rows, thinning individual seedlings to 6 to 8 inches apart. Whatever planting method you use, keep the area weed free and well watered, especially once the vines begin to run.
If you're gardening in the chilly North, there are some tricks you can use to hasten the growing and maturing of your melons. Laying dark green or IRT (infrared transmitting plastic mulch) over the melon bed before planting, and planting seeds or seedlings into the plastic will advance the melon season by heating up the soil earlier. You can help the young tender seedlings withstand a cold burst in spring by covering the area with a floating row cover. Be sure to remove it before the vines begin to flower so bees can pollinate the flowers.
Pregerminating seeds or growing transplants indoors is another way to get a jump on the season. You'll have fewer problems with seeds rotting in cold, damp soil, and you'll get melons sooner.
Once growing, melons can take care of themselves as long as they get plenty of water. Before you know it, you'll be loaded with ripe, juicy, succulent fruits and have plenty to share with family and friends. For more on melon growing go to www.willhiteseed.com/store/asp/guides.asp
Q. My vegetable seedlings, such as eggplant and broccoli, have small, black, flea-like insects feeding on the leaves. What is it and how do I control it?
A. The small insects munching on your leaves are probably flea beetles. Their feeding creates a shotgun-like appearance to the leaves. They love hot, dry conditions and young succulent leaves. To control them, keep the soil moist and frequently cultivate around plants. Spray leaves with insecticidal soap or diatomaceous earth to deter their feeding. Once the plants get large, the flea beetles usually are not a concern.