Cantaloupe | Coyanosa, Tx, Summer 2014

    At the Mandujano Brothers Produce Farm, located outside of Coyanosa, Texas, in the western part of the state, cantaloupes are harvested by hand between June and August.  With an average rainfall of 14 inches a year, the melons enjoy many long sunny days which prevents them from rotting or molding on the ground.  Also, high potassium deposits in the soil allow the cantaloupes to absorb more sugars which make the "Pecos" cantaloupes sweeter than most others grown around the country.    The pickers have to gauge the ripeness and quality before putting the melons in a large canvas bag draped across one of their shoulders.  When the bag is full, they set the bottom of the bag in a tractor-driven wood paneled trailer, or a trailer carrying plastic harvest bins (4 feet square, 3 feet tall), that follows them along in the field.  They then unhinge the hooks at the canvas bottom and unload the cantaloupes into the trailer.  Harvesting crews usually consist of 6-10 pickers, along with a tractor driver.  The farm also uses a 100 foot conveyor belt machine that is driven up the rows and dispenses the melons into a packing trailer, but this still requires workers to pick the cantaloupe off the ground and determine ripeness and condition.  The only difference between the conveyor belt and canvas bags is the workers do not have to unload the cantaloupes into the trailer.  During the harvest season, the farm averages temperatures of about 100F degrees , with a record of 117F degrees in June and 116F degrees in July.  Hence, pickers are almost required to wear long sleeved shirts, jeans, and large brimmed hats with handkerchiefs attached to the back to protect their necks from the sun. They also must wear thick pants because the leaves of the cantaloupe plant are somewhat thorny and will shred thin jeans and cut exposed skin.   Since it is the desert, venomous snakes, such as rattlesnakes and copperheads, are common in the fields so workers have to be very careful about where they put the feet and hands.  Since the foliage is thick, many harvesters say that it is a very unpleasant experience to see a venomous snake and then lose sight of it just feet from where you have to put your hands to pick up the melons.  However, the pickers use common sense and will not risk a rattlesnake bite just to get a few extra melons in their bags.  If the field gets a hard rain, the harvest has to wait a day or two for it to dry out because the tractors and trailers will sink in the mud.