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IN SEASON

The Faithful Melon Patch

September 19, 1996|RUSS PARSONS

Seasons don't end with a bang. Rather, there is a slow fade while the next one gradually builds. That's what's happening right now in the produce department.

Although the stores are still full of peaches, plums and nectarines, get 'em while you can. Soon those fruits will be in short supply.

The harvest of peaches and nectarines has slid from a seasonal high of around 400,000 packages a day to a trickle of 40,000 to 50,000.

The nectarine harvest should be winding up this week. The fruit will be gone from the stores by the first of October. The news on plums is a little better: The harvest will continue for three or four weeks. And because the late-harvest plums--mainly Angelenos--tend to do well in storage, they'll be available for two to three weeks after that.

But no summer fruit has late-season staying power like peaches. Thanks to some recently developed varieties, you can count on finding them almost to the start of November. The king of the late-harvest peaches is Last Chance, grown in the mountains above the Antelope Valley.

Things are a little different when it comes to melons, which are grown in several areas, depending on the time of year. The heart of the melon patch is the Westside area of the San Joaquin Valley, around Mendota, and the harvest there is rapidly winding down. Probably 40% of the growers have quit, while about 20% more will be out by the end of the month, says Gary Connolly, sales manager for Pappas & Co., a Mendota grower-shipper-packer.

But even when the Westside harvest is complete, there will be melons coming from the desert area around Phoenix. And when that's done, there'll be melons arriving in the dead of winter from Mexico, then the Imperial Valley. Melons, it seems, are with us always.

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