This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The Melon is one of the greatest luxuries that can be grown in our climate, provided we have it ready for the table during the warm season. But if it is not matured and ripened until the chilly days of September, it loses its delicious flavor, and will hardly pay for cultivation. Those who grow it, therefore, should bear in mind that the harvest must be made in August, and early in September, in order to realize either profit or pleasure. Of course, it is easy to start the plants soon enough, but how to remove them from the hot-bed to open culture, without stopping their growth from two to three weeks, is what I have not been able to accomplish. Even when the plants were growing on inverted sods, the same check in their growth would take place, although it would seem that the roots of the vines could not have been disturbed to the smallest extent. I know of no vegetable so sensitive to the slightest injury in the process of transplanting, or change of location, as the melon.
* I write, of coarse, for the northern part of the Union - for all over the southern and south-western portions, melons
To obviate this impediment, and yet to obtain the fruit at the season desired, I have adopted with success, the following method, which may, perhaps, prove interesting to those who attempt the melon culture anywhere north of New York city.
About the 20th of April, and sooner, if the season will permit, I spread a generous dressing of well rotted manure, broadcast over the ground intended to grow the vines upon, and plow it under. Let the drag or cultivator follow the ploughing, until the soil is finely pulverised. The hills should not be less than seven feet apart. Procure two bushels of highway sand,* and place that quantity where each hill is to be grown. If this cannot be easily obtained, sand thrown upon the bank, and left there by running water, is equally appropriate, or sand dug out of the earth, two feet below the surface, is nicely adapted to the purpose. At any rate, find sand, and nothing but sand, to make the hills of, and if its energies were never taxed to grow any crop whatever, so much the better. Spread the soil thus supplied, over a surface of two feet in diameter. This will raise the hill five or six inches above the surrounding surface, which will favor the growth of the melon, though it might injure most other vegetables. Plant the seed half an inch deep.
This will insure moisture sufficient for the purpose of germination; and if the seed of any vegetable whatever, be buried deeper than it need be, to secure that amount of humidity, the product will not be so abundant, nor will it be perfected as soon as it would, had it not had an unnatural obstacle to surmount and overcome. I should have said, that before depositing the seed, the sand referred to should be thoroughly incorporated with powdered charcoal, saturated with urine, and mixed with a fortieth part of its bulk of guano or fowl manure. This can easily be prepared six or eight weeks in advance of the time when it will be wanted. Sprinkle as much coal dust over the surface of the hill as will give it the dark color of charcoal, and then over the place where the seeds have been buried lay a pane of glass flat upon the ground. Now,-if those seeds do not germinate in five or seven days, it will be because the sun does not show himself. Whenever the orb of day peeps out, the germinating process will proceed with all the rapidity that it would in a hot-bed under the most favorable condition.
Unsually, in a week, the glass must be raised to let the plants through, and placed on four bricks arranged about the vines, where they will do finely until about the middle of May, when the glass should be taken away, and a box two feet over and six inches deep, covered with coarse milinet or cheese binding must be put over each hill. This will prevent the evaporation of moisture, and keep the cold winds from the plants, and it is the only sure protection against the injuries usually inflicted by the striped bug. If the boxes are more than half a foot deep, they will shade the vines too much, and cause them to run up tall and slender, to their permanent injury. If the ground about the hill is kept black with coal powder, and the season prove favorable, the Citron Melon will be fully ripe in 112 days from planting; without the coal it will be two weeks later, and not quite up to standard in flavor. The coal dust keeps off that great enemy, the cut-worm. It is not offensive to the worm, but gets up such a degree of heat that it will turn away to avoid it. The boxes should not be removed until the vines begin to be cramped in their growth by them. The weeds may be kept down, and the soil stirred easily until the middle of June, by passing a cultivator between the rows.
This process should be repeated often.
If the manure, or a part of it, is spread over the ground, instead of being all put in the hill, and the whole soil kept loose and mellow by faithful cultivation, the roots will extend to a great distance, much to the advantage of the fruit that seta latest, and to the amount of the crop. And this holds good not only with this vine, but all its congeners. The natural habit of the roots of this class of vegetable productions, is to reach far in all directions. This the cultivator should assist and encourage; if he does not he will interfere with his own reward for his industry. Let the bulk of his manure be spread over the whole ground, and then place sufficient in a hill so that the vegetable body may never one moment of its existence fail to expand itself for want of nourishment. If a plant, in the early stages of its life, wants for a few days only, its proper sustenance, it will never fully recover from the effects of the misfortune. A want of nutrition, also, at the time the fruit begins to form and mature, is still more destructive, and that fertilizer which was spread broadcast over the soil, now comes to the rescue and ensures success.
* Our correspondent proceeds on the supposition that the soil is a loamy one - if naturally very sandy, of course this
The labor we have referred to, may appear large to be bestowed on one item of the garden; perhaps it is so. Yet it will abundantly repay every step taken, and every finger lifted. Six weeks of melons in abundance, for ourselves and friends, is worth twice the efforts needed for their production.
I think it was nine years since, that I began to experiment with the Yellow Flesh Melon, with a view to improve its size. I began with specimens weighing six or seven pounds, and ended the last season with a crop averaging between twenty and thirty pounds. I would leave but one fruit on a vine, which would become large. From the seeds of this improved specimen, I would plant the next year, and this operation repeat every season. The gain was gradual for several years, and then became more rapid. The last year the improvement in size was greatest. The melons were grown in open culture, planted about the 20th May. The flavor of this melon has not deteriorated, nor can I perceive in that matter, any change. For productiveness and easy cultivation, I know of nothing better than the Christiana. For excellence of flavor, the Citron has no superior. If there is a better water-melon than the Black Spanish, I have not been able to find it.