Hami melons, like this one from Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., are among the specialty varieties that some Westside shippers offer. The company has exclusive rights to the Golden Hami variety, which has a bold exterior color with orange meat, a crunchy texture and ‘eats like a very sweet watermelon,’ says Steve Smith, co-owner of the company. ( Turlock Fruit Co. Inc. )

A handful of California’s Westside melon growers produce a variety of specialty melons for retailers who want to offer their customers options other than cantaloupes, honeydews and watermelons.

With its water allocation restored this year after several years of drought, Kettleman City, Calif.-based Couture Farms has increased its acreage by 50%, said partner Steve Couture.

The company grows a few honeydews but specializes in cranshaw, casaba, juan canary, orange flesh, galia, piel de sapo and hami melons, Couture said.

Couture Farms could sell more cranshaws than any other kind because consumers are quite familiar with them, Couture said.

“They don’t yield as well, they’re more expensive to harvest and handle, and they bruise easily,” he said.

The company tries to keep an even balance of all of its specialty varieties.

“We try to harvest all varieties every day,” he said, “but it’s a real challenge.”

His brother, Chris Couture, has responsibility for handling the intricacies of the growing operation, he said, including staggering planting dates so all the melons mature at the same time and scheduling the proper irrigation for each block.

Attention to detail is a must with specialty melons.

Unlike conventional melons that usually can be sold by adjusting the price, Couture said, “If you make a mistake (with specialty melons) and have too many, you have no place to go with them.”

Del Mar Farms, Westley, Calif., is adding specialty melons it trialed last year as well as some mini watermelons, said Brian Wright, sales manager.

The company now has a few acres of Crispy Pear and Sunny Type melons.

Crispy Pear has an outside appearance similar to a golden honeydew, Wright said.

It’s oval shaped, has a “really sweet internal quality” with 14% to 18% brix rating and has a creamy, white flesh and its own Price Look-Up number.

Sunny Type has suture marks outside similar to a Tuscan melon.

“It’s the same as a cantaloupe, but sweeter,” Wright said.

Del Mar Farms tested both varieties last year and plans to market them commercially this summer, starting the second week of July.

The company also will offer conventional and organic mini or personal-size watermelons for the first time this season.

Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., will offer golden honeydew and Golden Hami melons for the first time this year, said Steve Smith, co-owner.

“We’ve been trialing them for the last couple of years, and we think we’ve found a really excellent variety,” he said.

Smith said the company has exclusive rights to the Golden Hami variety, which has a bold exterior color with orange meat, a crunchy texture and “eats like a very sweet watermelon.”

The firm also will offer golden honeydew melons for the first time this year.

The golden honeydew has a high sugar level, smooth, yellow exterior and white flesh, he said.

In all, the company grows nine kinds of specialty melons, including classic varieties like orange flesh honeydews, cranshaws and galias.

Dos Palos, Calif.-based Legend Produce LLC, which specializes in Origami cantaloupes, is conducting trials of some galia melons, says partner Barry Zwillinger.

“We started it this winter in Central America, and we’re continuing it all the way through October,” Zwillinger said.

The galias are being test marketed in a number of stores.

“It has a little bit different flavor than the cantaloupe,” he said. “It’s green on the inside, like a honeydew, and golden on the outside, like a cantaloupe.”

Zwillinger plans to increase volume based on demand.

 
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