MANASSAS—Melons are summer gardens’ gift to eaters. “Melons are chock-full of vitamin C and potassium, and as an added benefit they are low-calorie and fat- and cholesterol-free,” said Nancy Stegon, a registered dietitian and family and consumer sciences agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Prince William County. “Summer is melon season, and it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy these healthy fruits.” Hugh French, a Virginia Farm Bureau member who operates Sunnyside Farm in Cumberland County, has cantaloupes and watermelons that are ripe right now. “The melons are riper a little earlier than usual because of the warm weather earlier this year,” French said. “We’ve had watermelons for a week, and they’re usually not ready until the Fourth of July.” There are many varieties of melons, but the kinds with deep orange flesh, like cantaloupes, are good sources of beta carotene or vitamin A, Stegon explained. A cup of cantaloupe provides half of an adult’s recommended daily intake of vitamin A. “Vitamin A is important, because it boosts immune function and vision and supports cell growth, which plays a critical role in the maintenance of the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs,” she said. Melons won’t get sweeter after harvesting, so when selecting a melon choose one that is symmetrical and free of cracks, bruises or soft spots; it should have just a slight softness to the touch. A sweet smell is not always the best indicator of melon quality, because those that have been chilled won’t have much smell, Stegon said. When shopping for cantaloupes and other melons with a netted rind, look at the color below the netting. If it is golden, the melon is ripe. To find a ripe watermelon, look for a spot where the melon rested on the soil. If the spot is greenish or white, then the melon isn’t ripe, Stegon said. As a watermelon ripens, the spot will turn a cream or yellowish color. If you’re looking for a way to make something with melons, try this salsa recipe from Montana State University Extension Service. Ingredients: 2 cups seeded and chopped fresh melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon or a combination) 1 cup peeled, seeded, chopped cucumber ¼ cup chopped onion 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or mint ½ to 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped ¼ cup lime juice 1 tablespoon sugar Directions: In a medium bowl, stir together all ingredients. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes. Serve with grilled or broiled fish or chicken, or with tortilla chips. Contact French at 804-492-4273 or Kathy Dixon , VFBF communications, at 804-290-1137.