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Daniel I. Leskovar, J. Clark Ward, Russell W. Sprague, and Avraham Meiri

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.