Jump Starting the Melon Season
There are many ways to get your crops growing quicker.
Melons are notoriously slow, undependable germinators. Here are some tricks that can give you a jump on the season. These tips work for all the vine crops.
Paper Towel Sprouting. Moisten four paper towels folded back into one. Sprinkle 12 seeds on the towel 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart.
Roll the towel up like a jelly roll. Then roll the paper towel inside a soaking wet hand towel. Place the entire seed roll in a plastic bag, twist-tie the opening and leave it in a warm spot with an even temperature -- the top of the refrigerator is a good place; a windowsill isn't, because the temperature fluctuates too much. The seeds should sprout in four to five days. Sometimes all the seeds sprout, sometimes only 1/2 or 3/4 of them do.
(You can use this paper towel method to test the germination rate of any seeds. If you try to sprout 10 seeds and only six germinate, the germination rate for that variety is 60 percent. If germination is less than 70 percent, plant seeds closer together or buy new seeds.)
Prepare your soil while you're waiting for the seeds to sprout. You must plant seeds as soon as they sprout or they'll die. Plant the sprouted seeds just as you would unsprouted ones.
To gain two weeks on a short growing season, use inexpensive wax paper or plastic covers known as hot caps. They are designed to cover your seeds or seedlings, protect them from frost and bugs and gather heat for them as they grow. Presprout the seeds a little earlier than usual and place hot caps over the seeds after you plant. The hot caps will allow you a week or two more growing time before the average last frost date. When the danger of frost is past, remove the hot caps. The plants will be well up and on their way.
Black plastic, or the newer IRT (InfraRed transmitting) plastic is one mulch that keeps the soil warm, not cool, so it can really speed up vine-crop growth in northern areas.
Black plastic blocks out light, preventing weeds from growing beneath it, and it also conserves moisture because it eliminates evaporation. Water condenses on the plastic and drips back into the soil, so you don't need to water as often.
Lay the plastic down before you plant, making sure the soil is fairly moist. Cover the edges with dirt and rocks to anchor it securely. Cut round holes or crosses in the plastic wherever you intend to put seeds, so plants can come up through the holes and water can penetrate.
Black plastic does have some disadvantages: earthworms won't eat it; you can't till it back into the soil; it's fairly expensive; and it's cumbersome to apply. But some gardeners feel the results outweigh the disadvantages, and here the choice is yours.