CEDAR FALLS | A cold, wet spring, followed by persistent parched conditions in the summer months, apparently presented no major hurdle to Matt Christopher, owner of Rogers Drive Inn Market, who reported record-sized melons this year.
"We got a whole bunch of the big pumpkins, too," said Christopher, who runs the roadside market at 5535 W. Gresham Road, between Cedar Falls and Janesville. "I'd say there are a couple of hundred picked right now, and I’ll have a lot more," he said. "I haven’t gotten that far in the field yet. Some are mighty impressive."
The market features other homegrown vegetable items as well, including sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and other "random stuff," Christopher said.
But the pumpkins and melons are the big draw this year, because they're so big, he said.
"They're bigger this year than we've seen in awhile and much bigger than I expected," he said.
Last year's drought virtually squashed the pumpkin crop, and melons came in disappointingly small, Christopher said.
"It was the drought," he said.
That was a a bit of a surprise where the watermelon crop is concerned, he said, because melons generally like dry conditions.
"Watermelons want drought conditions, which sounds strange because they suck up moisture," Christopher said. "They’re goofy like that. Dry conditions make them sweeter and everything, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because they’re so full of water."
Dry conditions prevailed this year, too, although there were evidently some timely rain events that gave the crops a boost, Christopher said.
"I wouldn't have thought I'd have had so much this year," he said. "It didn’t rain that much but it must have rained at the right times that we got big-sized pumpkins and melons."
The crops came in at about the right time, too, which is a contrast to the reports from area corn and soybean growers, who have said the cold, wet spring, followed by a lengthy dry summer growing season caused their crops to fall as much as two weeks behind schedule.
Christopher said his operation wasn't untouched by those conditions.
"We were late planting sweet corn and stuff, but the melons got in at the right time," he said. "It was mid-July when I started with sweet corn because I couldn't get it in the field. Melons, we got them in at the right time, around May 10. That's usually when we get most of the garden stuff in."
Customers have responded, and business at the fourth-generation, family-owned operation has been brisk, Christopher said.
"I get tons of people passing through on Highway 218 that want local produce or Iowa sweet corn," he said. "A lot of out-of-town business."