Muskmelon grown in optimum conditions will produce several cycles of delicious fruit in one season. Prone to disease and vulnerable to insects, birds and animals, muskmelon could be a gamble in the home garden. Proper cultivation and prevention of plant blights will increase the quantity and quality of this melon crop.
Prepare muskmelon beds as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. Plan for raised beds 6 to 8 inches high and 5 feet wide. Calculate the square footage and apply half the recommended amount of N-P-K fertilizer before tilling the bed. If not testing fertilizer levels in the soil, choose fertilizer high in nitrogen and potassium. Use lime if needed to adjust the soil pH to between 6.0 and 6.5. Apply systemic insecticide before tilling to eliminate cucumber beetle larvae and other damaging insects.
After a soaking rain, broadcast the remainder of the fertilizer over the bed and cover with black plastic mulch. Do not cover dry beds with black plastic mulch. Leave the beds covered and undisturbed until planting time. Before setting out plants, cut slits in the center of the bed spaced every 18 to 24 inches.
Plant muskmelon seeds in 3-inch peat pots 2 to 4 weeks before transplanting to the garden. In soil temperatures below 55 degrees F, muskmelon plants will not take up water--early planting combined with a cold and wet spring could kill the melon seedlings. Transplant after the soil warms, placing plants in the bed through the prepared slots. Timing is crucial: Set plants in the garden when the second set of leaves emerges.
Irrigate during dry spells. Set small stones near the plants to form catch basins in the mulch for rain and irrigation sprinklers. Cut short slits in the low points to let water through. Don't irrigate when melons begin ripening. Overwatering produces melons with poor flavor.
Harvest muskmelons when color changes from green or gray to yellowish orange. When ripe, a muskmelon slips from the stem with the push of a finger. Ripe melons left on the ground become easy targets for birds and animals. Check the patch daily for melons ready to pick. Texture changes when melons ripen off the vine, but sugar content does not. The longer melons stay on the vine, the sweeter the flesh.