Jinshan is mellow with the sweet fragrance of ripe watermelons. The city's southwestern district by Hangzhou Bay is celebrating the third Jinshan Sweet Melon Festival through June 20 in Zhujing Town, an ancient water town known as the "home of melons."
The "Small Crown" watermelon, which is deep green in color, with yellow flesh, is the new species available this year. The trademark is Zhufeng.
For the first time, these famously sweet melons are available in downtown Shanghai.
Shoppers can easily buy quality melons at the Shanghai First Food Store on Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall without traveling for one hour to the melon fields, says Li Fang, spokeswoman for the Jinshan government. The festival opened a week ago.
Zhujing melons are famous for sweetness. Around 73 hectares of melon fields and greenhouses are expected to produce 1,980 tons of melons this year.
During the first week of sales, more than 6,000 boxes were sold in the Shanghai Wholesale Market of Fruits and Melons, Shanghai First Food Store and the Xijiao Bailian Shopping Mall in Hongqiao area. Customers come from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces as well as Shanghai.
The "Small Crown" costs from five to six yuan (81-98 US cents) per 500 grams.
"This year's melons will be sweeter than last year," says a grower Zhou Yongkang. He was the first person in Jinshan who introduced the melon-growing techniques from experts at the Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences in 2007.
Melons love sunlight and can resist heat. More than 10 hours of light each day and the big night-day temperature difference make for sweet, high-quality melons, Zhou says.
This year the temperature was quite low and there was heavy rain, which was not good for the crop. So for the first time, light compensators were used, with guidance from the agriculture academy.
"It guarantees the melons will enjoy 'sunshine' every day, and the melons grow bigger with thicker stalks and leaves," Zhou says.
He estimates that the poor weather and cost of artificial light have raised the cost of production by 800 yuan per mu (667 square meters), but the artificial light has increased output by 10 percent.
Melons need good branding to sell in downtown areas. Farmers and the district government are working hard to put Jinshan melons in more city outlets.
During the melon festival, various downtown malls will host melon-tasting events and open melon markets. Shoppers can search on Baidu.com for Zhufeng melon to find out where it's available.
Zhou and another farmer, Chen Xiaohua, are the so-called "fathers of Zhufeng melon," and are also known as the "melon brothers."
Zhou graduated from Shanghai Jiao Tong University's School of Agriculture and Biology in 1991, and was assigned to work in the forestry station in Zhujing Town. In 2000, he helped the Yongfeng Farm improve the annual yield of high-quality barley to a record 250,000 kilograms.
In 2007, Zhou visited China's western regions, which are famous for sweet melons, and studied how to improve the sweetness of Shanghai melons.
In the western areas, the climate is hot and dry, with lots of sunlight and a big diurnal temperature difference.
Farmer Chen, self-taught, received a certificate from the China Agricultural University.
Since 2007, Chen and Zhou have worked together to develop Jinshan melons through seed selection, transplanting, cultivation, branding, marketing and distribution.
Since 2010, melons grown by the "melon brothers" have won the gold medal in the city-wide melon competition.
In 2010, Chen's farm was designated model growing area.
In I 2012, Zhufeng Melon was listed as a Shanghai Famous Brand and China Green Produce.
Today the ancient town of Zhujing has developed an agricultural industry producing melons, grapes, strawberries and rice.
How to get there: Take Metro Line 1 to Xingzhuang Station, then transfer to Line 5 and get off at Zhuanqiao Station. Get out of the Metro station and take Xinfeng Bus Line to Zhujing.