Hermiston watermelon harvest kicks into gear

E.J. Harris/EO Media Group Hermiston watermelons are out of the fields and on display at the Finley's Fresh Produce booth July 8 at the Pendleton, Ore., Farmers' Market.

Hermiston, Ore. — Hermiston watermelons, savored by Northwesterners for their distinctive sweetness, are back in season.

Growers began harvesting last week, and Finley’s Fresh Produce of Hermiston was the first to arrive with melons in tow at the Pendleton, Ore., Farmers’ Market.

“I tried them yesterday. They’re so sweet and good,” said Naomi Sanchez, who owns Finley’s Fresh Produce with her husband, Ildefonso Zuniga. “We plan on selling out.”

While early season watermelons might be a little smaller than average, Sanchez said the quality remains consistent. She credits Zuniga for knowing when they’re ripe for the picking.

“I don’t know how, but he always picks them when they’re perfect,” she said.

Hermiston watermelons have earned their reputation thanks to the Columbia Basin’s unique combination of climate and soil. Watermelons are desert plants, which take in heat during the day to produce sugar as a source of energy.

Not only are the days hot enough for melons around Hermiston, but cooler nights slow down the respiration process, which allows the plants to retain all that sugar. Light, sandy soils also allow water to filter down deep to plant’s roots. The result is a sweet and juicy summertime treat.

“What isn’t good about watermelon?” Sanchez said, with a smile. “They’re so good.”

Jack Bellinger, of Bellinger Farms in Hermiston, said they started cutting melons off the vine last week. He said they’ll start shipping to stores across the Northwest this week, including the Portland and Seattle metro areas.

The growing season this year has been hit-and-miss, Bellinger said, with some weeks topping out around 65 degrees and others reaching triple digits. That type of variation can interrupt watermelons while they’re growing, but he anticipates the crop will fare well over the next couple months.

“The quality looks really good,” Bellinger said. “We’re cutting really solid watermelons right now.”

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