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Good reasons for icebox melons.

Convenient size and early ripening make icebox-type watermelons handier for home gardens than the big, commerically grown kinds. Instead of mammoth 15- to 30-pound melons, these varieties yield 6- to 8-inch round (or slightly oval) fruits that weigh only 5 to 10 pounds apiece.

Besides being easier to store and serve, these small-fruited varieties mature earlier--in about 70 days instead of 80 to 90 days for most larger kinds. And they sweeten up faster than full-size melons, so gardeners in even short-season or cool coastal areas have a chance to grow a tasty crop.

Seed companies now offer numerous varieties of dwarf melons on full-size plants. Red-fleshed kinds include 'New Hampshire Midget', 'Park's Whopper', 'Sugar Baby', and 'You Sweet Thing'. Or try 'Yellow Baby' (pictured above) or 'Honey Cream' (with yellow-orange flesh).

Although the fruits are smaller on these icebox-type watermelons, most of them grow on full-size vines and need room to spread. Where space is tight, however, you can choose one of the newer semi-compact or determinate varieties, such as 'Bushbaby', 'Garden Baby', 'Sugar Bush', or 'Yellow Doll'. For these, space hills about 3 feet apart.

Watermelons grow best in full sun in a rich, loose-textured soil--well-amended with compost, ground bark, or aged manure. Sow seeds in low raised hills 5 to 6 feet apart (closer for newer short-vined varieties). In each hill, plant five or six seeds 2 to 3 inches apart; after seedlings are up, thin to three most vigorous plants per hill.

Near the coast, or in areas where summers are shot, plants may need some additional help to capture all the heat you can give them. Where soil warms up slowly (melons need soil temperatuer of 65[deg.] or more), give plants a head start by sowing seeds indoors in peat pots or soil cubes four weeks before planting time. Insulate small plants in the ground by covering them with hot caps or plastic tents.

In these areas, choose the warmest planting site possible--a south slope or a bed near a concrete patio or heat-trapping wall. To hold warmth in the soil, mulch it with stones or cover soil with black plastic sheeting. For maximum heat, you can grow plants in the middle of old tires or inflated inner tubes. A few melons will ripen faster than many; if necessary, pinch off all but three fruits per vine.

Mail-order seed sources include W. Atlee Burpee Co., 300 Park Ave., Warminster, Pa. 189961; Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 N. Pacific Highway, Albany, Ore. 97321; and Geo. W. Park Seed Co., Greenwood, S.C. 29647.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1985
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