As previously stated, neither plants nor seeds should be risked in the field until the ground is thoroughly warm and there is no danger of frost. When the plants have been started under glass they must be shifted to the field in the most careful manner so that roots and soil about them will not be disturbed. When this is accomplished there will be little if any check in growth. If the plants are watered freely 5 to 10 hours before transplanting, the soil will hold together better during the transfer. The corners of berry baskets and dirt bands or cubes should be cut out with sharp knives at the hills in the field. In removing the plants from pots, one hand should be placed over the pot with the stems of the plants between the fingers, and the pot then inverted and tapped gently to separate soil and roots from the sides of the pot. When planting in the field the soil is simply drawn to the balls, cubes or blocks of earth, downward pressure being avoided because this would disturb the roots.
Muskmelons are planted in both hills and drills. The hill system makes it possible to cultivate more thoroughly and is the more popular in many of the largest producing sections. Drilling, however, is favored by many of the best growers, and doubtless provides the most perfect conditions to each individual plant, because they are not competing with each other in the struggle for food, moisture and sunshine.
When in hills, the spacing distance is commonly 6x6 feet, while some prefer 5x7, others 4x6, 4 1/2 x 6 l/2 or 5x7 feet. When in drills the plants may be from 1 to 2 feet apart. The space between rows is seldom less than 6 feet. Manure and fertilizers are often mixed in hills or furrows before planting, while some growers always apply broadcast. The depth of covering varies from 1 to 2 inches, depending upon the character of the soil. It is best to use plenty of seed, 10 to 15 to the hill, in order to be certain of a good stand. From 1 to 3 pounds of seed are required to the acre. Some growers make two or three plantings in the hill or the furrow at intervals of a few days, to insure a good stand. Frost may injure or destroy the first lot, but the later plantings will escape.
Thinning should not be done until the plants are well started. The tendency is to allow fewer plants to the hill than formerly. It is doubtful whether more than two plants should ever be left. Crowding always decreases the size of the melons. An experiment made in Georgia (Ga. Sta. Bul. 57, p. 177) shows the importance of severe thinning. The results were as follows:
Marketable weight per melon Unmarketable lbs.
...... 90 1.09 19
...... 116 .98 30
...... 86 .99 27
...... 47 .79 57
Plat A, one plant to the hill......
Plat B, two plants to the hill.....
Plat C, three plants to the hill....
Plat D, four plants to the hill.....
One plant to the hill, it will be observed, yielded the largest melons and the smallest percentage of unmarketable fruit. Two plants to the hill gave more marketable melons, but there was no real gain, as the melons were smaller and there was a larger percentage of unmarketable fruit. Three and four plants to the hill gave fewer marketable melons and a larger percentage of unmarketable fruit; the marketable melons were also smaller than in plats thinned to one plant to the hill.
Forcing boxes have been profitably used in some sections. They are especially popular in New Mexico, but probably possess even more merit in northern sections. The New Mexico station (New Mexico Station Bul. 63, p. 27) gives the following account of their construction and management: "These boxes may be made from inch lumber, 8 x 10 x 12-inch, with a groove for a 10 x 12-inch glass. The cantaloupe seed is planted in the field as early as possible in the spring and the glass-covered boxes are placed over the hills; at the station the seed has been planted as early as March 25.
"The seed soon germinates and the plants grow right along without being injured by the low night temperature. If it can be so arranged, it is desirable to have the boxes sloping slightly to the south and the east. After the plants have come up care should be taken in ventilating. The general practice of some growers is to remove the box in the forenoon, and in the afternoon to replace it. Others simply pull the glass out a few inches. The latter method seems to be better, for the reason that the plant gets plenty of air and at the same time is protected from the cool and hard winds that are likely to blow during the day. The boxes are removed after all danger of frost is over. The plants should be hardened before the boxes are removed".
Cultivation must be shallow, frequent and thorough. The ground should not be allowed to bake as long as it is possible to get between the rows with a cultivator. Many growers shift the vines when they attain considerable size, and continue tillage until the crop is well advanced. More or less hand hoeing is necessary during the entire period of growth.