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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Glendive man's plant research is paying off in squash and melons

"When it frosts, it's going to be quite, quite exciting."

By Cindy Mullet

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

July was wonderful, but most of August was too cool.

Most Glendive residents might take issue with that assessment, but for Mike Deshaw’s squash and melon patch, the July heat was just what the plants needed.

Deshaw, who tends a 600-foot-long plot planted with 21 rows of squash and melons on Alvin and Dena Hoff’s irrigated farm west of Glendive, is relishing the fruits of an almost perfect growing season. Last year, his patch was hailed out. This year he is going to have more squash and melons than Eastern Montana can eat.

“When it frosts, it’s going to be quite, quite exciting,” he said.

Dena and he selected seeds for the patch in January. While he wanted to “grow everything,” they narrowed it down to 16 varieties of winter squash plus several kinds of pumpkins and melons. They used a corn planter for seeding, dropping three seeds in each hole, spacing the holes five to six feet apart and leaving 72 inches between each row, he said.

The plants like warm soil. He thought about mulching for weed control, but was afraid it would cool the soil too much. Now he worries that the weeds which have grown up may also shade the plants too much, he said.

By late August, the plants have spread across the entire area in a mass of vines and fruit that obliterate any rows. He will document how each variety produces and use that information in his choices for next year, he added.

Deshaw has always loved to garden and likes to grow lots and lots of produce. Teaming up with the Hoffs has been a win/win situation, he said, adding, “It’s nice to garden out here. You couldn’t find better people.”

He has been planting squash and melons at the Hoffs’ farm intensely for four or five years but this is his biggest patch and he is thinking he may have to haul some of the produce to Billings to find a large enough market, he said.

When Deshaw isn’t out at the farm, he can often be found in the Glendive Public Library researching all things melon and squash, looking for what varieties will do best in Eastern Montana, when to water, (a lot in the spring and early summer when the plant is growing and setting on fruit and then none after late August) and how to know when each variety should be picked, he said.

The plants are very similar in appearance, often only distinguished by their fruit, so he made a map of the patch for reference. A pumpkin vine can grow out as long as 45 feet. Figuring out which plant produced a particular pumpkin can be a challenge, he noted.

When the plants were small he kept the patch weed-free but now it’s just like a jungle. He discovered that the mature plants will “attack” him so he avoids getting down among them to pull weeds. He still tries to watch for fruit that is lying on its side and move it so it will ripen evenly, but if a 30-pound pumpkin resists placement, he doesn’t argue too much, he said.

Along with the 30-pound pumpkins he also has some little pie pumpkins and lots of varieties of squash and melon. He has been picking some watermelon for sale at Glendive farmers markets but others such as the Crenshaw melon won’t ripen until later, he said.

He planted two rows of the Crenshaws, one of the sweetest varieties in the melon family. They don’t seem to be putting on big fruit which makes him a little nervous. But then again, the bigger fruit may be hiding in the brush. It’s hard to see what is in the middle of the patch. When the first frost kills the tops, he will know for sure, he said.

Until then, he walks the patch, seeing how the plants are doing and checking for fruit the deer have sampled, pulling and tossing them aside. Even though “it feels like murder,” he also reluctantly snaps off small fruit that won’t have time to ripen and tosses them.

Squash and melons need a fairly long growing season and some varieties won’t mature and ripen soon enough but others such as the Sweet Dakota Rose watermelon which was developed in North Dakota or the Lakota squash are well suited for growing in northern climates, he said.

While the main harvest will come after the first frost, Deshaw has some melons that are ripening now ready to be picked and hauled in to Glendive’s farmers markets on Friday and Saturday. Along with his melons he also sells corn, potatoes and onions from the Hoffs.

“We pick the corn the day we sell it and we sell out pretty easy,” he said, noting that as the season progresses, they will have more and more produce for sale.

 

Reach Cindy Mullet  at
crmullet@midrivers.com

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