In South Texas: Field day marks start of melon harvest

In spite of cool weather and rain across the Lower Rio Grande Valley this year's melons are looking pretty good, says Texas A & M Extension specialist Marvin Miller. Melons do best when the days are sunny and the nights are cool. Sugars build up during the day, but lose their sugars if nights are warm.

Though harvesting was going on in some of Sun Tex Farms' fields west of Rio Grande City in early May, Miller said, “The cool weather we've had means melons are not quite ready.” In fact, Sun Tex Farms field trials were about two weeks behind schedule, and only a few melons were ready for picking.

Trials evaluate performance of early and mid-season cantaloupes as well as honeydews. Juan Anciso, Extension vegetable specialist said the heavy rainfall experienced in South Texas was beneficial to the reservoirs. But, “The rain didn't help the melon crop. We want to be able to control the amount of water on our crop.”

The heavy rain South Texas experienced has not only affected the potential for downy mildew but also adversely affected the sugars in the melons. “Besides that,” Anciso said, “the unusual cloudy weather has brought on more gummy stem disease.” Farmers have had to keep ahead of the problem since fungicide applications must be made before diseases appear.

On top of the rain, 500 acres of Valley melons were hammered by hail in April. “They got beat up pretty bad,” said Anciso. “After a while, they bounced back, but the yield will be down significantly, and they'll be a couple of weeks late. Unfortunately, these melons will have missed their ideal market.”

Normal melon yield

The melon acreage likely will provide a normal yield, and this year's melon market will be improved over the last two years. “Last year was a disaster,” said Anciso. “We're hoping the farmers will make a buck this year.”

South Texas farmers planted the fewest acres since 2001, when they planted cantaloupes on more than 5,000 acres and honeydews on 1,800. This year's figures are closer to 3,500 acres of cantaloupe and 1,300 of honeydew.

“Watermelons are another story,” said Anciso. “There are about 12,000 acres of irrigated watermelons in the Valley's four counties.” That's up a little from last year.

“It's the seedless varieties that are taking over, making up about 60 percent of the Texas crop.”

Seedless varieties were first planted in 1986 in South Texas. “Everybody's learned a lot since then.” Anciso said farmers knew so little about them in 1986 that they failed to plant a pollination row of seeded next to the new variety. “They were seedless all right. In fact, the crop failed altogether.”

Consumers who tried the early seedless varieties remember that the seeded variety far surpassed them in taste.

“Breeding has come a long way since then,” said Anciso. Now the 12- to 15-pound gems are equal in taste to seeded (varieties). They're bright red and sweet. The only thing missing is the seeds.

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