July is National Watermelon Month - will you be enjoying a Hermiston, Oregon watermelon at your next barbecue? Watermelons are synonymous with Hermiston, Oregon, even though it may not be one of Oregon State’s top crops.
Early settlers discovered sandy volcanic soil with wonderful loam content. Hermiston melons are known for their unusually high sugar content, which translates to some of the sweetest and tastiest watermelons in the world, due to the hot days and cool nights early in the growing season.
Harvest usually begins in mid-July in Eastern Oregon and runs until September for certain varieties. Plantings are staggered and generally start in early April. The rows of plants are typically separated by a thin row of wheat to help protect the young transplants from the sometimes-harsh spring winds.
Watermelons are harvested by hand; field workers walk through the rows, cutting ripe melons from the vine and pitching them into field bins. From there, the melons are driven to packing sheds, where they are polished, weighed, and sorted. The region’s climate allows for an extended growing season; therefore, Hermiston melons are shipped throughout the Pacific Northwest and the United States long after harvest has ended in California and the Southwest!