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How to sweeten up melons ... even in cool climates.

Few crops taste sweeter than vine-ripened melons. In hot inland climates, growing melons is easy, but the folling methods may give you an earlier crop. In coastal climates and in areas with short growing seasons, getting plants to produce a full crop--or any ripe fruit at all--requires some expertise. Here is help in mastering the melon challenge.

Chose fast-ripening varieties, preferably those that mature within 80 days. Check seed packets or mail-order catalogs for number of days from planting to harvest.

Soak seeds in water overnight before planting. Sow as early as you can provide a consistently warm environment. Bury seeds 1 inch deep in clusters of three; space clusters 2 feet apart.

Avoid disturning roots or you'll retart growth. For a head start, sow seeds in peat pots no more than four week before warm weather. If seedlings become stunted in any way, discard them and sow seeds directly in their growing plot outdoors. When seedlings develop four leaves, thin each cluster to the strongest plant by snipping or pinching off the extras.

Plant in rich, loose soil, adding quantities of compost or aged manure as needed.

Provide warmth. Choose a site in full sun, ideally a south slope or wall. Mulch with black plastic or stones. For extra warmth, plant in raised beds or in mounds in the center of old auto tires or water-filled inner tubes. Early in the season, cover plants with a plastic tent or other heat-holding device; provide ventillation on warm days or plants will cook. As weather heats up, adjust plants gradually to outdoor temperatures by opening the sides or top during warmest hours.

Water amply and often to encourage steady growth; use warm water. To prevent mildew and rot, keep foliage and fruit dry; the easiest way is to train vines on a trellis, as shown above. For a sweeter crop, when fruit develops to full size, water only as needed to keep vines healthy. You'll know it's time to water if leaves turn bluish, wilt on cool days, or don't become crisp at night.

In very short-season climates, or if fall weather threatens to arrive before fruits can ripen, pinch off any new flowers after three or four fruits have formed.

Pick when fully ripe. On cantaloupes and similar melons, watch for thick, corky netting, gold to tan coloring, and stems that separate easily from fruit. Pick watermelons when the part of the fruit that rests on the ground turns light yellow. For other kinds, sniff blossom ends during warm weather for a strong fruity fragrance. Sugar content begins to drop soon after picking, so harvest fruit just before eating for fullest flavor.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1984
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