Step By Step Instructions For Growing Muskmelons

There are fewer things nicer in my summer kitchen than sun-ripened muskmelons filled with vanilla ice cream.

I don't care whether we're talking muskmelon or cantaloupe, I'm a big fan.

Planting Muskmelons

For early and reliable crops in the USDA zones 5 and colder, sow inside around the middle of April to the beginning of May. Sow two to three seeds to a four inch pot and plan on thinning to the strongest seed when the vines get four to six inches tall.

You *must* have warm soil to germinate melons (70F) and you'll find the seed will germinate within 10 days. Cool soil will rot the seed.

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Next Step

The next step, after all danger of frost has disappeared is to harden off the seedlings and plant. If you are serious about growing great muskmelons, try this trick. Take a black garbage bag (green works well too) and slit it so that it becomes one large sheet of plastic. Lay this down in the garden and bury the edges so they don't flap or flop around. Do this two weeks before you want to transplant your melons. The plastic will heat up the soil.

Around the middle of June when you want to transplant, make a slit in the plastic, take the plant ouf of the pot (carefully so you don't wreck the roots) and plant in the now-warm soil. Leave the plastic in place until mid-summer when it should be removed as it will begin to heat up the soil too much for good crops.

Heat Retention

If you have a heat retaining fabric (available from good garden centres) you can lay it over the plants and tuck the edges down so it doesn't flap about.

Remove it when the plants start to produce flowers to allow bees to pollinate your melons.

Watch For Birds

And do watch for birds that get trapped under the row-cover, they can make a mess of things and it will happen.

Vine roots are very shallow so any cultivating has to be done carefully. And never move muskmelon vines as they really resent being moved about and will respond by wilting and sometimes simply dying.

Having said all that, you can sow the seed outdoors in mid-June but understand that cool seasons will slow germination and eventual fruit production drastically unless you live in a much warmer gardening area than my USDA zone 4.

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Ripe Fruit

You'll find that a gentle pressure on the fruit at the base of the muskmelon stem will disengage the ripe fruit and this is the easiest way to tell.

Do not disturb the vines if you can avoid it while testing for ripeness.

And do try the vanilla ice cream with your muskmelons or cantaloupe.

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