A freshly-ripened muskmelon--straight from your own garden--is one of the summer's tastiest treats. It takes a bit of effort to grow them, but once you've tasted a homegrown melon, you'll never again be satisfied with the store-bought kind.
There are almost countless varieties of muskmelons from which to choose, but regardless of your preference, you'll need to learn how to prepare the soil, take care of them, and avoid some common problems throughout the growing season.
All of that hard work will pay off, however, when you pick your sweet, delicious melons. Follow these seven suggestions and you'll be on the right path to a successful harvest:
1. Select the right location
Muskmelon vines need room to spread out, so choose a location with plenty of space. Some gardeners grow their melons in trellises but most allow them to mature on the ground. Either way, they will take up a wide area.
2. Prepare the ground
Spread some rotted manure or compost on your bed, and mix it into the ground by tilling about 8" deep. Break up any rough soil and remove all rocks, sticks and any other hard debris. Aerate the soil with your rake.
3. Create mounds and plant the seeds
Muskmelons are grown in rows of 4" high raised mounds. Rows should be about 4 feet apart with a space of 36" between mounds in each row. Once the ground temperature reaches 70 degrees, you can plant five seeds 1" deep in each mound, keeping them about 18" apart.
4. Keep them moist
The soil around your young muskmelon plants should be moist, but there should not be standing water. Give them an inch or two of water each week. Because the melon plants are sensitive to dry weather, they might need extra watering during drought conditions.
5. Remove weeds and add mulch
Pull the weeds around your plants before the vines start spreading. It's all but impossible to remove weeds after there is a network of vines to contend with. After you weed the area, put down a layer of mulch to discourage new weeds and to help retain moisture.
6. Use floating row covers
It's recommended that you protect your plants from insects by using a floating row cover. Many gardeners will create a tunnel using chicken wire and drape the netting over that. The cover also helps to keep the plants warm in the early stages. Once blooms have formed, remove the cover to allow pollinating insects to reach them.
7. Feed your plants
As the muskmelon plants are growing, you can use a nitrogen fertilizer around any plants that have not bloomed. Another method of "waking up" slow-blooming plants is to use coffee grounds around their root system.