The Garden Patch: Easily produce common produce – lettuce, muskmelons

In the next few weeks we’re going to concentrate on the most commonly grown garden items for our area. If you have questions on other produce, please contact us and we’ll see if we can help you – we’ll sure try! So, here goes …

Lettuce

Lettuce is a cool weather crop that is fairly cold tolerant. However, the thin, fragile nature of the leaves makes 120213-lettucethem susceptible to freezes and drought. Lettuce is best grown as a spring or fall crop. There are four distinct types of lettuce:

  • Leaf types – Leaves are loosely arranged and colors may range from green to pale red to deep red. Leaf lettuce matures rapidly and is the most reliable type of lettuce to grow in Kansas – especially from seed.
  • Romaine or cos – This lettuce forms a loose or soft head with stronger flavored leaves. It is an excellent addition to a mixed salad and takes longer to develop than leaf lettuce.
  • Butterhead – Tender rounded leaves that form into a loose, soft head are characteristic of this succulent and delicious lettuce. It takes longer to grow than leaf lettuce and can be started and planted as transplants as well as direct seeded.
  • Head or crisphead – Head lettuce takes nearly twice as long as leaf lettuce to develop. It is most reliably grown using transplants, and the fall season is the best time to grow head lettuce in Kansas.

When to plant. Sow lettuce seeds in mid-March or set plants in early April. Sow seeds for a fall crop in mid- to late August for leaf or Bibb types, or in late July or early
August for head or romaine types. Lettuce grown in hot weather will have a strong, bitter flavor. You may improve the flavor be storing the lettuce in a plastic bag in a refrigerator for several days.

Spacing. Sow seeds thinly ¼ inch deep and water consistently until the lettuce emerges. Thin to a plant every 6 to 8 inches, or set transplants at this spacing. Rows may be as close as 15 inches apart.

Care. Lettuce is shallow rooted and the system is fairly spindly. Therefore it will require careful cultivation so as not to damage roots. Regular watering and fertilizing are necessary. CAUTION – overwatering in heavy soils can cause root or head rot.

Harvesting. Cut the heads of heading types slightly above ground level and remove damaged, dirty or excess leaves. Select full sized leaves of leaf lettuce individually so that the plant will continue to produce. Store lettuce in a plastic bag in a refrigerator immediately after harvest because it will become limp quickly.

Common concerns. Aphids, tip burn (brown, dead edges of the leaves).

Muskmelons

Muskmelons – most of us call them cantaloupe – are a tender, warm weather vegetable that requires similar 120213-cantaloupe1care and conditions as cucumbers. As the name implies, a strong, yet slightly musky odor is characteristic on melons in this group. Muskmelons produce a sprawling vine that takes up a lot of room in a small backyard garden. Most traditional muskmelon varieties produce a pale yellow melon covered with a netted surface and have orange colored flesh. Some newer muskmelon varieties have a light green flesh. Other melons such as honeydew, crenshaw and casaba – often called winter melons – have cultural practices nearly identical to muskmelons.

Varieties. Large sutured or ribbed varieties include Burpee, Supermarket, Gold Star, Superstar, Pulsar, Dixie Jumbo, Legend and Magnum 45. Harper is a non-sutured large-fruited type. Small, solid, no sutured types – often referred to as Rocky Ford types – include PMR-45 and Hiline. Ambrosia has an excellent flavor but is good only for a few days at ripening.

When to plant. Muskmelons are injured by light freezes so all danger of frost must be past before setting plants. Consistent soil temperatures of 58 to 60 degrees F are necessary to encourage good germination. Early May is a standard planting date over most of Kansas.

Spacing. Muskmelon vines spread 6 to 8 feet wide, so row spacing of 6 feet is necessary with individual plants spaced every 18 inches to 2 feet in the row.

Care. Muskmelons usually do NOT require heavily fertilized soil. Normal maintenance fertilizer should produce an adequate crop. Mulching with black plastic warms soil, improves early season growth and makes weed control easier. Use a starter fertilizer if setting transplants. Dry weather as the melons approach maturity is important to maintain good vine vigor and sweet, flavorful fruit. Like cucumbers, muskmelons produce separate male and female flowers and require bees to pollinate them. Male flowers are more abundant and are present before female flowers begin to develop. Muskmelons and cucumbers WILL NOT cross pollinate.

Harvesting. Melons are ready for harvest when the stem slips easily and cleanly away from the end of the melon leaving a clean dish-shaped scar. Melons should be slightly soft and have a pleasant aroma. Honeydew, casaba and Crenshaw melons do not slip from the vine but do develop a slight softening at the flower end opposite the stem. Muskmelon fruit will not ripen off the vine. They can be stored only three to four days when fully ripe.

Common concerns. Cucumber beetle (transmit bacterial wilt), aphids, spider mites.

OK, folks! Another week of gardening ed is wrecking brain cells – but I sincerely hope it helps with next spring’s gardening adventures! Thanks for reading! Till next week!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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