Sunny days sweeten season for Virginia melons
Virginia melon growers are optimistic that there will be plenty of refreshing local cantaloupes and watermelons for the hot summer days ahead.
Hanover County’s Kirby Farms grows more than 10 acres of cantaloupes and watermelons that are sold to a local distributor, Produce Source, and to retail fruit stands.
“It looks like above-average yield and quality for our melons this year,” said owner Kevin Kirby. “It got warm sooner this year, so we started harvesting about two weeks earlier than usual, in late June. The hot, dry weather has been kind of hard on the vines but makes the melons sweeter.”
Kirby said the farm always makes a “good push” to get watermelons on the stands by the Fourth of July,and this year they made it.
Watermelons are grown on 773 acres on 338 Virginia farms, while cantaloupes are grown on 481 acres on 239 farms, according to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture.
“Melons are ideal for summer picnics and other meals,” remarked Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Melons come in a wide variety of types, sizes and flavors. They offer a sweet refreshment to help combat heat and provide a low-calorie, nutritional dessert or snack.”
Jay Reese of Reese Farms in Halifax County brought cantaloupes to market by the beginning of July, but his watermelon crop wasn’t quite ready.
“We started the season with too much rain, and then it turned dry. Overall, melons like hot, humid weather, so they have fared well,” noted Reese, who is a member of the VFBF Specialty Crop Advisory Committee.
Reese Farms grows nearly 50 acres of watermelons and cantaloupes. In addition to supplying produce farm stands and area wholesalers, Reese provides cantaloupes for the annual Virginia Cantaloupe Festival, which will be held July 26.
Reese reported that his melon crops this year have been excellent in terms of juiciness and sweetness, and he expects production to continue throughout the summer.
“We planted early crops and late melon crops as well, so we expect to produce melons into September.”