They are about the size of a baseball, 5 inches (13 cm) wide, though sometimes smaller, weighing 2 to 3 pounds (900 to 1400g.)
Inside, they have smooth, firm flesh with a very sweet taste. The flesh is green, though orange-fleshed sub-varieties have been around since the 1920s.
The plants provide good, reliable yields, requiring 65 to 90 days to mature from seed.
These were the type of melons originally grown in the Rocky Ford area of Colorado, and so came to be known as Rocky Ford Melons. The area, in the Arkansas Valley of Colorado, has hot days and cool nights which helps melons grown there to be extra sweet. Some researchers think that the salt content of the water in the area might also help influence the taste.
Over the years, hybrids have been developed which are larger and sweeter than the original Eden’s Gem strain that was grown. But all melons grown in the area are marketed under the region name of “Rocky Ford.” Use of the geographical name is not regulated, though. Some growers feel that the area allowed to use the name should be restricted to Fowler on the west and La Junta on the east, but farms outside the area are using the name for their melons, anyway.
A Listeriosis outbreak in the summer of 2011 was associated with the melons. The outbreak was linked to the deaths of more than 32 people. It was traced to a farm called “Jensen Farms” run by Ryan and Eric Jensen in the town of Holly two counties away and 90 miles east from the Rocky Ford area. Jensen Farms filed for bankruptcy in May 2012.
In response, a Rocky Ford Growers Association was formed. Members are audited for food safety twice a year by state Agriculture Department inspectors. Standards have been developed which will avoid the cleaning and cooling issues which led to the problems at Jensen Farms (which were traced to their packing sheds.) The issue was potato-washing equipment being used to wash melons with, and skipping a chlorination step in the washing process.
One story says Eden’s Gem Melons were developed by a US Senator, G.W. Swink, who had also been Rocky Ford’s first mayor. Another says they were developed by a town resident called J.W. Eastwood in 1881.
One of its synonyms comes from the name of the town of Rock Ford, Colorado. The town has held a “Annual Rocky Ford Watermelon Day” since 1978.
Armour, Stephanie. Deadly Cantaloupe Outbreak Probed by U.S. Prosecutors. Bloomberg News. 14 August 2012.
Booth, Michael. Rocky Ford sows seeds of change on cantaloupe safety. Denver, Colorado: The Denver Post. 20 April 2012.
Simpson, Kevin. Rocky Ford cantaloupe growers reeling from “listeria hysteria.” Denver, Colorado: The Denver Post. 11 October 2011.