The history of the muskmelon and watermelon is obscure. It is probable that De Candolle is right in his conclusion that they were originally native to Africa, both north and south of the equator. But in prehistoric times they spread into central Asia and were developed to fully their present perfection ages before America was discovered.
In 1882 the writer was astonished by the size and quality of these fruits brought up the Volga on barges from the Caspian, but grown in part on the lower Volga, but largely in Persia and Turkestan. In 1898 Professor N. E. Hansen was still more surprised by the size and perfection of melons of Russian Turkestan. Of muskmelons he says: "Upon reaching Transcaucasia, north of Armenia, between the Black and Caspian seas, extra large muskmelons were observed, especially in the region near Mount Ararat. But it was not until the cotton-growing sections east of the Caspian Sea, in Turcomaiiia, Bokhara, Amu Daria, Samarkand, and Tashkend, all in Russian Turkestan, just north of Persia and Afghanistan and west of China, were reached that the climax in size of muskmelons was observed. Ordinary specimens of many varieties weighed fully thirty pounds, as purchased in the bazars, and government officials informed me that select specimens often weighed over one Russian pood (equals thirty-six pounds avoirdupois) each.
"Some varieties do not ripen on the vines, but are hung up in slings in the houses close to the ceiling and ripen through the winter and spring."
The watermelons of the far East are equally variable in size and season. As to season they include the earliest known, and they also include varieties with a thin, hard shell that keep well through winter.
In a melon test at Brookings, South Dakota, in 1898, thirty-five American and fifty-six Oriental varieties were tested. Of this test Professor Hansen reports: "The five best varieties in order of earliness were United States Department of Agriculture Nos. 23, 32, 16, 19, 79. United States Department No. 23 ripened perfectly and was a red-fleshed melon of excellent quality."
All these early varieties were Oriental. As an example of late-maturing varieties the writer planted in. 1883 a quarter of an acre of a late Russian variety beside a public road on the grounds of the Agricultural College at Ames, Iowa. They made a fine, even growth, and ripened in September - a heavy crop of melons with such a hard shell that students supposed them to be squashes, and not a single one was tested until they were gathered. When tested in September the quality was not surpassed by any variety of the vicinity, yet they kept in the cellar as well as Hubbard squashes. At the winter meeting of the Iowa State Horticultural Society the third Tuesday in January, they were tested, and the decision was reached that "no superior in quality was known, but watermelons in January were out of season."
We now have melons of high quality adapted to all parts of the country where the summers are hot enough to ripen the earliest-maturing varieties of corn. But the commercial centres of melon culture and distribution are usually in sections where summer droughts are not usual, where irrigation water is available, or on land where the melon roots can reach permanent water, as on Muscatine Island in Iowa.
The main essentials to profitable melon-growing are a warm, sandy loam soil, good culture, moist but not wet soil at the roots, and not least, purity of the seed. Melon growers with some experience save their own seed from selected specimens grown where they could not mix with other varieties. As early ripening is desirable North and South, it is usual to plant the seeds on sods under glass for setting out as soon as the weather favors for early local use and shipping.