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Tough to beat watermelon from Manteca

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POSTED September 7, 2010 2:30 a.m.
Knock or slap?

That’s the question and Art Perry - arguably one of the most knowledgeable men around when it comes to watermelons - has the answer.

It’s a slap or pat to the side of a watermelon that will give you the best clue to its sweetness and moisture content. If it’s a nice resounding thud, it’s a sign of good things to come when you slice through the rind.

Art is one of the two sons in George Perry & Sons. The other is George Jr.

Father George Sr. is a healthy 91 years. He’ll tell you a lot of that has to do with being surrounded by family, friends, and a strong faith in God. But he’ll also tell you having melon every day helps.

Watermelons contain a lot of vitamin A and vitamin C plus beta-carotene. But probably the one thing that matters the most is the fact watermelons are loaded with lycopene - one of nature’s most critical antioxidants. Research has indicated lycopene neutralizes “three radicals” or substances in the human body that can cause severe damage such as making cholesterol stick to blood vessel walls and worsen asthma attacks and rheumatoid arthritis.

While no specific study concludes it can prevent cancer and heart disease, research does show that it can reduce the possibility of such diseases developing.

There is little doubt that it is considered a healthy fruit.

Weight Watchers emphasizes it as a top pick.

That said Manteca area watermelons tend to be among the best grown on the West Coast. And that isn’t just the wishful thinking of the Perry family or numerous other Manteca growers.

The reason is simple. Watermelon is a desert fruit but intense heat over a prolonged period of time doesn’t bode well for its sweetness or water content.

Watermelons, just like grape and other fruits, respond to the right balance of climate and soil conditions.

The sandy loam soil around Manteca drains well and the days are hot during the growing season. The big difference, though, between melons grown more than 60 miles to the south and this area has to do with the cooling Delta breezes that come in during the evening and overnight hours.

Follow the weather on TV long enough and you’ll notice the winds tend to be a bit stronger in Manteca than they are in Stockton or even Modesto. It has all to do with Manteca’s geographic location on the southeast edge of the Delta and the prevailing winds that come across the Altamont Pass and push south toward Bakersfield.

Watermelons act much like grapes in the relationship between hot days and cool nights.

If you doubt that, just try watermelons that come out of Arizona and Mexico during the winter. They aren’t nearly as sweet and are borderline dry.

As a historical note, Manteca grown watermelons were all the rage on the East Coast back in the first decade of the 20th century. They were viewed as some of the sweetest around.

Ed Powers - for whom Powers Avenue and Powers Tract is named after between Spreckels Park and Manteca High - introduced watermelons to the Manteca area.

Between 1905 and 1910 watermelons accounted for the bulk of the 20 plus train carloads shipped out of Manteca during the harvest season to other parts of the country.

Even though Manteca watermelons shipped under the Yosemite Fresh label of the Van Groningen & Sons on Jack Tone Road east of Manteca or the George Perry & Sons label arguably are the best around, it is pumpkins that the Perry family and other growers have helped make synonymous with Manteca when it comes to farm crops.

More than 70 percent of California’s commercial crops of pumpkins come from the fields around Manteca. And pumpkins are a successful crop here for the same reason watermelons are -hot days, sandy loam soil, and those cooling Delta breezes that come up as the sun goes down.
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