If watermelons and sweet corn are the symbols of July at Terra Firma, then Melons are a sure sign of August.
Melons, also known as Muskmelons, are part of the extended family that includes not just watermelons but cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash and pumpkins. Botanically, they are most similar to cucumbers as they share similar-looking seeds, flowers and leaf shapes.
While most supermarkets in the U.S. sell only cantelopes and honeydew, there are dozens of distinctly different types of muskmelons with a variety of flavors, textures, external appearances as well as other features. One thing they all have in common is their love of hot, dry weather.
Of all the members of their family, melons have the least tolerance for cold, wet weather. Some farmers get around this problem and extend their season by starting the seeds in a greenhouse and planting transplants. But we have found that melons that are transplanted don’t produce well or taste very good. Direct-seeded melons develop deep rooted plants that don’t require as much water and allow the fruit to develop more sugar. So we wait to plant them in the spring until the soil is over 70 degrees. Most years that means we don’t start harvest until mid-July and the season peaks in August. We have found that after mid-September, the flavor of the melons diminishes.
Unlike watermelons, melons literally fall off the vine when they are ripe. This is called “slipping”. Their external color also changes, although each type of melon does this in a slightly different way. And again unlike their hard-shelled cousins, Melons continue to ripen after harvest.
All of this means that farmers can harvest the fruit when it is a day or two away from full ripeness, and let the end user finish the ripening process — similar to what we do with Peaches. It also means you will never get a Melon from us that is not usable, as sometimes happens with watermelons.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Melons you buy at the store. Large growers in recent years have seen demands from big-box retailers to increase the shelf-life of Cantelopes and Honeydews. Seed companies have responded by developing new “Long Shelf Life” (LSL) varieties that do not “slip” off the vine and are very difficult to harvest correctly. As a result, crunchy and flavorless melons are now commonplace.
This is the type of story that is all-too-common in the world of produce, yet it seems to continue to repeat itself over and over again. Only now, it is couched in terms of environmental sustainability as “Food Waste Reduction” rather than simply increasing profits. In the long run, I hope this trend will go down in flames when consumers simply stop buying LSL melons at Costco and Walmart. In the short term, it has created a niche market for “regular” melons, but it has also made finding seed for them a bit more challenging.
This season, we are growing the following melons. You will likely see each one at least once in your boxes:
Galia — a netted rind melon with a fragrant green flesh. They are an early-ripening melon, and we just finished our harvest for the year.
Cantelope — regular ones, not Long-shelf life.
Orange Honeydew — A cross between Honeydew and Cantelope with the rind of the former and the orange flesh of the latter. The texture and flavor is a combination of the two types.
Piel de Sapo — an oblong melon with a green and yellow, hard shell and a creamy white flesh. These are so-called Christmas melons, which means they ripen more slowly after harvest than most other melons.
There are some tricks and tips below for enjoying the melons you receive from us this summer.