Local growers say Nevada's simmering summer has created a bumper crop of Fallon's famous specialty melon, the Hearts O' Gold cantaloupe.
"This has been a perfect growing season," said local grower Rick Lattin.
There was no late-spring frost to kill young vines this year, and the temperature, while consistently hot, did not top 100 degrees during the peak growing season.
"Anything over 100 kind of hurts the melons," said longtime Hearts O' Gold producer Wade Workman.
Workman and Lattin, two of the Lahontan Valley's top Hearts O' Gold growers, planted a few more acres of the heirloom melon this year. Demand for the sweet, fleshy fruit is high, but it always is. A resurgence in farmers markets around Northern Nevada is giving growers a better chance to sell the highly perishable cantaloupe before it's too late.
Hearts O' Gold must be picked from the vine only when ripe. And unlike hybrid melons, they ripen at different times within a 30-day stretch beginning this month. Workers comb the fields each day during harvest season, gauging the ripeness of each individual melon.
Once picked, Hearts O' Gold must be eaten within two or three days or they will spoil.
The tight time frame makes it hard to sell the melons in grocery stores, whereas farmers can make sure the cantaloupes get to a farmers market on just the right day.
Lattin hocks his wares each week at eight farmers markets from Fallon to Reno.
"How much is sold at the markets, that's a trend that's really increasing," he said.
The melons are so fickle that even Fallon's Hearts O' Gold Cantaloupe Festival and Country Fair is stocked almost completely with hybrid melons, donated mostly by Workman and Lattin.
Years of crossing varieties has produced hybrids that rival the Hearts O' Gold trademark high sugar content.
Lattin, Workman and Pioneer Farms grow at least as many hybrid melons as they do Hearts O' Gold. The hybrids are easier to grow and cheaper to harvest. They ripen at the same time and can be harvested all at once, in two or three days. They are also more consistent and have a better shelf life, so they can be shipped to grocery stores without spoiling.
Even with the economic benefits of growing hybrids over Hearts O' Gold, local farmers still put in the extra work because there's still a demand and they can charge a little extra.
Workman said the cantaloupes, once they start being harvested in the next week or two, will sell for 79 cents to $1 a pound.
Heirloom fruits and vegetables are coming back strongly, Lattin said, as people look to get away from hybrids and yearn for the tastes of when they were kids.
"Not everybody knows how fortunate Fallon is to have two or three growers that have kept growing these and selling them locally," Lattin said.
Hearts O' Gold Cantaloupe Festival
What: 19th annual Hearts O' Gold Cantaloupe Festival and Country Fair
When: Sept. 3, 5 p.m.-midnight; Sept. 4 and 5, 10 a.m.-midnight; Sept. 6, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
ON THE NET
Churchill County Chamber of Commerce: www.fallontourism.com
Contact Cory McConnell at email@example.com.