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Advice for Growing Melons in High Rockies of Colorado

 
Katherine Oconnor
Posts: 15
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Hi Friends,

We are at 8,000' in Colorado. I found a seed catalogue out of Missouri but I just couldn't help myself and bought several different types of watermelon seeds. They all have "shorter" days of maturity, around 80. I believe with starting the seeds indoors, covering them early season and late season I might be able to get 80 days. I am thinking of planting the melons in the ground along a south facing slope so that they get extra sun/heat radiating from the earth behind it. Will be diligent about watering. I have some old fencing that I might just lay on the hill as a trellis. I'd appreciate any advice that you can share. Even if I get immature fruit I would consider that a success, but wouldn't it be cool to harvest ripe watermelons?

And check out this free seed catalogue and let me know if you were able to restrain yourself from purchasing something. The photos are gorgeous. True gardening "porn."

www.rareseeds.com
 
Casie Becker
pollinator
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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I love that seed company. They've got so much variety and I've had great success with vegetables that I would never have tried otherwise. I also love that they specialize in those plants that you can save seed for future plantings from. Unfortunately, when I tried buying watermelon from them last year we only had on sprout and it didn't produce any fruit. Mind you, I was looking for long season varieties, so it won't be the same kinds you're trying.

I was going to recommend you contact Joseph Lofthouse about his short season watermelon, but I see he's already out of seed for them this year. He's got what is absolutely the most vigorous seed I've ever seen, so if you are looking for other short season plants, http://garden.lofthouse.com/seed-list.phtml It looks like news about his quality seed is spreading as I see several things are already sold out.
 
Katherine Oconnor
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Casey, thanks for the Lofthouse link - it's new to me, I'll definitely check out that resource. I'll keep you posted on any success I have with the watermelon seeds.
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 783
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Joseph's seeds are outstanding.  Best germination I've ever had.
 
Andrew Barney
Posts: 21
Location: Northern Colorado
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I tried growing watermelons here for about 4 years in a row and had one failure after another. But I've learned quite a bit.

I live an hour or so north of Denver so i'm at about 5,000 feet. But there is still a chance you could grow them too! I'm the only one i know along the northern front range who can grow watermelons as far as i know. What i'd like to see is a farm take the seeds i have and grow them here for market. Haven't got that far yet, but i'd love to find one that is open to starting with a large genetically diverse landrace and going from there. What i have i think could totally be grown for market. Why should Rocky Ford get all the fun.

I collaborated with Joseph Lofthouse on our watermelon breeding project since watermelon is something i really enjoy! We shared seed back and forth that i really do think we helped each other. And since we live in similar climates the watermelon seeds had a better time adapting from one garden to the other i think.

Things i've learned:

When growing watermelon in northern colorado climate two things are very important. Your soil and the genetics of your seed. Everything else is kind of mute.

1. The best way i found to improve my soil was to cover the top of it in fall (or late winter/early spring) with mowed up apple leaves. The ground i was planting in was hard, cracked, dry, and nutrient depleted from planting corn in that spot for a few years in a row. The mowed up apple leaves were a natural fertilizer that broke down easily with the snow and rain and encouraged microorganisms to break down the rest. It also helped keep in the moisture like a sort of skin. That is very important here since our air is so dry and the high elevation has intense sunlight on top of that. Do this and i really think your watermelons have a solid chance. The following May when i was ready to plant the soil was as soft as butter! Literally! Soft as butter! I literally could dig with a butter knife.

2. Find the best seeds you can from the most local of sources. A lot of plant varieties out there are bred in some greenhouse out east or out west or in the humid south and when imported to our climate they choke and die from a variety of circumstances. Canada bred seeds aren't bad and should work well. Joseph's seeds should work great. If you want the two best standard varieties i would recommend i would say Yellow Doll and Sweet Dakota Rose. Maybe sugar baby. But stay away from Blacktail Mountain. I've tried it several times and it dies everytime. Despite it having a claim of fame for being bred in idaho originally it is now planted in the south and does not grow in Colorado at all. I've heard good things about Early Canada, but i don't think i've tried it.

3. dont listen to anyone that says "that's impossible". They don't know what they are talking about because they don't try doing "crazy things". Sometimes the crazy ideas are the ones that work if someone keeps trying.

4. A soaker hose on a timer isn't a bad idea.

I thought i had one other thought. But i can't think if it right now.

Edit: oh i remembered it now. I direct seed mine in the garden about May 1st. This is about a week or two before our last sometimes predicted spring snow storm. Usually on the 10th we get some snow or rain which melts quickly and is perfect for the watermelon seeds which germinate a week or two later on their own. I think one year i just said to heck with it and planted them April 1st like i do with my purple Indian corn. They seem to come up when they want to. Much earlier than tradition "wisdom" say's to plant them, but i've had pretty good success by ignoring the "experts" anyway.
 
Katherine Oconnor
Posts: 15
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Andrew, thank you so much for the specific information. How exciting to talk to a gardener in CO with watermelon advice.

As I bought these seeds from Missouri I already had my suspicions about their viability here in Buena Vista. I have Blacktail (read your post too late!) Orangeglo, and Golden Midget. I will look for your two suggestions from another Northern seed supplier.

The area where I'm considering planting is "virgin" soil - basically topsoil with weeds. Regardless of the results of this experiment, I will absolutely mulch with ground-up leaves so that next spring my soil too can be like butter. Ha. Wouldn't that be sweet.

Great idea - soaker hose on a timer. Will do.

Do you trellis? I find that daunting for some reason. I do have several rolls of old fencing so thought I could unwind it and just lay it against the slope.

Would you do a hoop covering or milk jugs or anything like that for the seedlings? The seed packets say that I can germinate indoors 2-4 weeks early.

I'll take meticulous notes and share my journey.

Thanks!
 
today's feeble attempt to support the empire
learn permaculture through a little hard work and get an acre of land
https://permies.com/t/59706/permaculture-bootcamp-boots-roots
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