Restrictions on pumping water from underground aquifers are limiting vegetable production in Southwest Texas. To determine yield, quality, and water use efficiency (WUE) of muskmelon (Cucumis melo L. group Cantalupensis, `Caravelle'), six irrigation systems with varying input levels and their interactions with stand establishment (containerized transplants vs. direct seeding) were examined. Irrigation systems were: 1) pre-irrigated followed by dryland conditions; 2) furrow/no mulch; 3) furrow/mulch (40-μm-thick black polyethylene); 4) surface drip (0 cm depth)/mulch; 5) subsurface drip (10-cm depth)/mulch; and 6) subsurface drip (30-cm depth)/mulch. Field experiments were conducted on a silty clay loam soil during four seasons (1995-98). In 1995, marketable fruit yields were greater for subsurface drip systems at 30-cm depth than for furrow systems, with or without plastic mulch. Transplants grown with surface drip irrigation produced 75% greater yield in the 9-count fruit class size during early harvest than did those grown with subsurface drip (10- or 30-cm depth), but total yield was unaffected by drip tape depth placement. In 1996, the driest season of these studies, direct-seeded plants had higher total yields than did transplants; yield was greatest for direct-seeded plants on subsurface drip placed at 10- or 30-cm soil depth, and for transplants on subsurface drip at 10-cm depth. Soluble solids content was minimally affected by irrigation method, but was higher in fruit from transplants than in those from direct-seeded plants in 3 years. Across all seasons, the average water applied for drip systems was 53% lower than that for conventional furrow systems, and WUE was 2.3-fold as great.
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