Georgia Farmer Testing European Melon Varieties for Local Markets
LAWRENCEVILLE, Georgia – If you’re a fan of melons, like muskmelons and watermelons, but crave a variety out of the ordinary, then Charentais, Petit Gris des Rennes or Noir des Carmes may be right up your alley.
“They are very sweet, almost like eating candy,” said Georgia farmer Brennan Washington.
Washington, who owns/operates Phoenix Gardens – an urban garden northeast of Atlanta – has been growing European melons (like the French varieties mentioned above) for a few years to test the market for more exotic varieties. He believes the potential is there to develop a specialty market in European melons.
“The melons are true cantaloupes and are smaller than American melons, so they are perfect for one or two people to eat,” said Washington. “We also talked to a few chefs in the area who expressed an interest in the melons and would be willing to pay $1 or $2 more for them over standard melons.”
Mastering the growing requirements, however, comes first.
Washington received a one-year $5,390 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Producer Grant to determine the best production methods for growing European melons under Georgia’s environmental conditions.
He’s been met with nominal success with marginal yields and some pest and disease issues.
“We grew out close to 100 pounds of melons with fruit sizes ranging from ½ pound to several pounds in weight. But our blossom set was tremendous, so our blossom-to-fruit conversion ration was nowhere what it should have been,” said Washington. “However, what we did produce was of excellent quality in both taste and appearance.”
Washington speculates that the biggest limiting factor to melon production was the high heat, which coincided with blossom set and pollination.
“We will grow the melons again next year, but plan to plant them earlier in the season to overcome any potential issues with the heat coinciding with blossom set,” said Washington.
In addition, the plants suffered from some pest and foliar disease issues, but the problems were easily managed by altering production practices, such as using drip irrigation, applying a fish and kelp solution to the seedlings for protection and using row covers early in the season.
“Although we did not get the results we were hoping for in the trial, the major accomplishment is that we gained a body of knowledge that we can build upon to achieve a greater level of success in the future,” said Washington.
European melons aren’t the only niche crop being grown at Phoenix Gardens. Customers who participate in the farm’s CSA program receive heirloom tomatoes and peppers, and other unusual crops for the area, such as amaranth and Asian melons.
Phoenix Gardens, labeled “Certified Naturally Grown,” is comprised of a 2.5-acre farm in Lawrenceville, Ga., and another 16 acres in Jefferson County – all managed by a variety of sustainable ag techniques from raised beds, to fish fertilizer to poultry manure.
For more information on Phoenix Gardens, log on to http://www.phoenixgardens.net/. To learn more about the SARE-funded project, “Production and Marketing of European Melons in the Southeast,” visit the national SARE project database and search by project number FS10-249.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.