August is our fruitiest month at Terra Firma.
The late season peaches and nectarine varieties we harvest this time of year have complex flavor profiles usually associated with fine wine. Not sugary sweet, they are smokey, rich, and tangy. All the peaches we grow generally set fruit within the same 4-week period, but these ones spend fully eight or ten weeks longer on the trees than their early-season cousins. Most of them trace their lineage to the old-time O’Henry variety, which we are about to start harvesting.
Our table grape season also normally begins in August, although like just about everything else on the farm, it started a couple of weeks early this year. The hot weather we’ve had in the last week has sped up the ripening of the early varieties, and you’ll be seeing them in your boxes pretty regularly through the eighth month.
Still, no fruit loves August in Winters quite as much as melons do. Most of the summer crops we grow prefer temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s, but the Cantelope, Orange Honeydew and Sharlyn melons as well as Watermelon we grow truly love it hot. They taste best when it’s close to or even above 100.
Speaking metaphorically, melons are a baked dessert. The lush vines protect the fruit from direct sunlight while the starchy flesh turns into natural sugar in the hot shade under the leaves. Too much irrigation dilutes the sugars and makes the flesh watery and thin. The soil we grow our melons in is almost uniquely adapted for this crop: it holds deep moisture that the plant roots can tap into as needed.
Most years we provide very little water for the melons. We irrigate the field prior to planting, then sow the seeds deep into the moist soil. There they can grow for as long as a month without irrigation, their roots following the moisture as the ground slowly dries out. Many years we only water the plants twice before harvest, just enough to keep the plants alive. The soil we plant our melons in is almost uniquely adapted to the crop in its combination of clay, silt and sand that has the ability to hold lots of water and release it slowly.
This year, unfortunately, we’ve had to irrigate our melons — and all our crops — far more than usual. We began the season with less than half our normal rainfall, and thus half the soil moisture we would normally have. But even with increased irrigation, we’ve just barely made up the difference. To my mind, the melons we’re harvesting taste as good as they ever do.
Normally, melons are not the easiest fruit to take to work or send with the kids to school. But during the pandemic, with many family members home during the day, they are a tastier treat than an apple or orange And they are a healthy substitute for ice cream when served chilled.
As we move into August, you will see a slight shift in your boxes towards a larger amount of fruit and fewer vegetables. Enjoy the abundance of summer fruit while it lasts, because come September, the seasonal flow will ebb, then trickle, and finally dry up completely with the arrival of fall.
Enjoy it while it lasts!