If there is one group of plants that I have no complaints about attempting in the Flint Hills, it's the melon and gourd families. Our usual early summer moisture followed by the hot, dry late summer and falls of Kansas normally result in good crops of these rampant vines. Aside from avoiding the damage of vine borers and squash bugs, and in some years I'll admit losing everything to the little demons, I usually don't even have to work very hard to gain a good harvest.
Mountain Sweet Yellow
I've tried a number of different watermelon's and cantaloupes since I began gardening in Kansas, but I heartedly bless the impulse that resulted in me purchasing the seed for 'Mountain Sweet Yellow' watermelon from the Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org/) several years ago. Mountain Sweet Yellow was an heirloom melon that was very popular in the 1840's in NorthEastern markets. When Seed Savers described it as "truly one of the jewels in SSE’s watermelon collection," I felt I had to give it a shot and well worth the effort it was. Mountain Sweet Yellow results in long, large, 20 pound or so melons with dark yellow flesh and black seeds that matures in 95-100 days. Along with the decorative appearance comes a very high sugar content and a mild watermelon taste with overtones of honey. From a single hill, I usually harvest 4-5 large melons before I give up and let the box turtles eat the rest and, of course, since its a seeded heirloom, the only cost was the original packet of seeds.
Of other heirlooms, I've grown the fabled Moon and Stars Watermelon, also a very large melon and a good one, but although the devotees of Moon and Stars may consider this blasphemy, it is not nearly as tasty as Mountain Sweet Yellow. I think the former stays popular because of the fascination by children with the unique appearance, but I've found the yellow flesh and black seeds of MSY to be just as enticing to children. I did appreciate the taste and smaller size of a watermelon called 'Blacktail Mountain' when I grew it. Blacktail Mountain is a red-fleshed ice box style melon that matures faster than Mountain Sweet Yellow. There's a great comprehensive book on watermelons by Amy Goldman, Melons for the Passionate Grower, in which she described Blacktail Mountain as the "quintessential watermelon." Blacktail Mountain was bred relatively recently (in the 1970's) by a then teenager, Glenn Drowns, trying to find a watermelon that would consistently mature in the short growing season of his native Idaho. It did perform well here in Kansas, but had a slightly lower yield than my MSY. Blacktail Mountain is also supposed to have one of the highest sugar contents ever tested, but I find Mountain Sweet Yellow to be sweeter to taste.
Watermelon sweetness, for those who are interested, is measured by a refractometer in degrees of Brix (essentially sugars or more accurately soluble solids). A good watermelon has a Brix of 10, while an exceptional watermelon might be 14 Brix. Interestingly, because of the low glycemic diet craze, there are recent breeding efforts to produce a watermelon with a low sugar content. It isn't enough for dieticians that watermelons are naturally high in carotenoids including the lycopene that we hear so much about, no, they have to mess with the taste. Personally, given a choice, I'll take my watemelon as sweet as possible, thank you. Darned nutritionists ruin everything.