The best of the season’s cantaloupes, honeydews, dove melons, yellow flesh watermelons and watermelons (regular, seedless and personal size) hail from Rocky Ford, a small town in southeastern Colorado that becomes the talk of all towns this time of year.
What’s so unique about the area that makes it the hallmark for this bounty? It’s the blazing-hot days that ease into crisp, cool nights.
“We get excellent weather for melon growing,” said Matthew Proctor, a third-generation Rocky Ford farmer. “Temperatures during the day reach 100 to 110 degrees, and nights cool down to 40 to 50 degrees. This is ideal for the melons to develop natural sugars. We’re blessed with sunny days.”
Add to that the clay soils, which are packed with nutrients. Put it all together and you get a really sweet fruit. Rocky Ford’s cantaloupe can reach a sugar content of up to 15 percent, with specialty melons registering even higher; those grown elsewhere average 10 percent or less.
Label from a yellow seedless Rocky Ford watermelon. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
It’s no wonder that Rocky Ford melons have become world famous.
To ensure melons ripen at different rates, farmers space plantings out.
“We do three to four plantings to spread out the harvest as long as possible,” said Brooke Proctor, Matthew’s wife. “This year we had weather damage, an early frost, that damaged our first planting.”
She continued, “It takes about 12 hours to pick melons and get them to stores so they will be at their peak flavor and sweetness. As a whole, very little of the Rocky Ford melons are shipped out of state.”
Look for the Rocky Ford Association’s sticker on melons to make sure you’re getting genuine Rocky Ford cantaloupe, watermelons, and other specialty melons grown in the Arkansas River Valley and processed according to the strictest health and safety standards.
Local grocery stores and farmers’ markets carry our state’s famous melons. Another good place to find them is at Smith Family Farmers Market in Peyton (boarding Falcon). There you’ll find a huge assortment of Rocky Ford melons during the season, as well as the coveted dove melons.
“I plant up to five patches of melons,” said Adam Smith, a second-generation Rocky Ford farmer who opened the market in 2009. “There’s always a few dove melons in the patches. They don’t have a long shelf life, and when people see them, we sell out fast.”
Melons in all shades of colors are delivered daily, or every other day, along with other produce grown on the farm in Rocky Ford. The market is open daily 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Smith offered some tips for choosing cantaloupe and watermelons:
• Find the field spot on the melon, which is the large yellow patch on one side. If the color is a creamy, almost butter-like yellow, it’s ripe. If it’s white, the melon may be at peak ripeness.
• Tap the underbelly and listen for a deep sound. A ripe watermelon will have a deeper sound, while an overripe one will sound more hollow or flat, indicating the flesh is starting to go soft.
• Look for a dull, heavy watermelon. It may not be the most beautiful, and it may weigh what feels like a ton, but it will be a better choice. Watermelons are 92 percent water, so a heavier melon is holding more water and will be juicier. A shiny one indicates the insides are under ripe.
• Check the outside color. A ripe cantaloupe should be beige or sandy-gold. Stay away from those that are still green, as this means they are unripe and not ready to consume. Pass up fruits that have large holes, bruising, mold, soft spots, or any juice leaking out — the melon is likely too ripe. Also, feel the outside rind for raised edges on the webbing. This indicates that the melon is ready to be eaten.
• Find a melon that has an inverted stem (like a belly button). If a stem is still attached, or if there are rough edges where the stem was attached, this means it was picked too early and may have a poor flavor.
• Tap the outside of the cantaloupe and listen for a low, solid sound. A hollow sound may be a bad sign.
• Smell the blossom end (opposite the stem end). You should experience a sweet smell. If you smell anything musty or acidic, your melon is overripe.
Contact the writer: 636-0271.
This content was originally published here.