The coming of fall heralds change on every American calendar. Typically one of the busiest times of the year, it triggers a flurry of back-to-school shopping, last minute vacations, reluctant school-goers, fall sports schedules, and a heap of locally grown melons.
Rhinebeck resident and author Amy Goldman is widely recognized as a person in-the-know regarding melons. A private grower for over 30 years, Goldman began her journey toward cultivating expertise when someone taught her to grow watermelons using black plastic mulch. Her success with this method, which helps trap heat and regulate moisture, contradicted the notion that melons couldn’t thrive in northern climates. Buoyed by her success, Goldman expanded her efforts to include a variety of heirloom melons and began entering her results in the Dutchess County Fair competitions. These contests are judged mostly on the basis of size and her watermelons were often the largest. Her frequent success set her up as a go-to expert for advice on raising your own melons in the valley.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Goldman put her melon and general produce savvy to public use by authoring Melons for the Passionate Grower, The Compleat Squash, and Rare Forms. She uses her advocate’s voice to promote various heirloom varieties, which means an array of colors and shapes when it comes to melons. Her main source of inspiration, Seed Savers’ Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), is an organization dedicated to the preservation of America’s garden heritage. This seed movement’s “poster child,” as Goldman calls it, is the unique moon and stars watermelon. It’s known for its dark green rind dotted with small yellow stars and one large yellow “moon.” The colorful melon comes in several shapes and, depending on the strain, produces either sweet pink or yellow flesh. Its stunning rind and tasty flesh has made it a favorite among private and commercial growers alike.
Those who love good cantaloupe can count on John Hand of Greenwich to produce intensely sweet melons. The Hand Melon Farm, east of Saratoga, grows varieties of cantaloupe so well-known for their exceptional flavor that they were dubbed “Hand melons” in the 1920s. The farm typically devotes 10 acres a year to the melons, which they carefully handle in order to prevent the many diseases to which these fruits are prone. They’re available from late July through mid-September and can range from four to six pounds, depending on the season. While this yield is a little smaller than some better-known commercial varieties, Hand states his cantaloupes make up for their small size through intensity in sweetness and flavor. The signature flavor profile of these Hand melons makes them popular as mail-order items directly from the farm, or in the Saratoga and Capital Region farm stands at which they can be found.
Watermelon has been a summer fruit staple in produce markets across the country for years. It appears in produce departments around April or May, picks up in volume through June and July, and tapers out in October. It’s become an iconic symbol of summer, representing sweet, crisp, cooling refreshment for countless melon fans. But while watermelon appears in bulk for most of the summer, commercially grown local melons don’t arrive on the scene until sometime in August. This may seem late in the season, but the melons cultivated by commercial growers require months of maturation. Since this region’s climate precludes planting melons early in the spring, it naturally follows that harvest occurs late for local growers. Once they do hit the markets, though, there are plenty of regionally produced melons from which to choose.
Taliaferro Farms (www.taliaferrofarms.com) offers more than 90 varieties of certified organic produce, one of which is the popular sugar baby watermelon. Located in scenic New Paltz, the 34-acre farm sits within sight of the Shawangunk Mountains and the iconic Mohonk Tower. It began in 1995 when Pete and Robin Taliaferro bought the land in order to begin their dream of running an organic, sustainable farm. They devote 21.5 of their 34 acres to the practice of community supported agriculture, or CSA. For those unfamiliar with the term, CSA allows communities to buy into a portion of the farm’s annual harvest in advance. This allows members, as the CSA produce-investors are called, to take home a share of the farm’s weekly harvest from spring clear through Thanksgiving. The variety shifts as the seasons progress, resulting in a broad range of choices for members throughout the membership year. That means plenty of watermelon come the months of August through mid-October.