Growing Green: When are My Melons Ready to Pick?
There is nothing better than biting into a ripe, juicy melon on a warm summer day. Summertime wouldn’t be complete without enjoying this tasty fruit while spending some relaxation time by the lake. As a gardener, it seems so easy—plant, grow, harvest, cut and eat. The most important step of this process is harvesting; it may also prove to be the most challenging. Harvesting is key—once the melon is harvested, it will not continue to ripen. Timing is a difficult thing for most gardeners no matter what melon it is; even specific types will vary depending on what variety you are working with. Luckily, there are a few clues to look for that will help you pick that perfect melon. Though many people have their own strategies on harvesting melons, here are some suggestions that will help you as a gardener gain confidence in picking only the best:
- Look at the color on the top. The watermelon is ripe when there is little contrast between the stripes.
- Observe the tendril. This is a small curly stem (pigtail) on the watermelon vine directly opposite the point where the melon is attached. When the melon ripens, this tendril dries and turns brown or gray. This is a sign that the plant is no longer feeding the watermelon.
- Watch the soil spot. As the watermelon sits on the soil it develops a “soil spot”. This spot can be used to determine the ripeness of the watermelon. When the melon is immature, the spot is greenish or white. As the melon ripens the spot develops a cream or yellowish color.
- The best way to tell when honeydew melons are perfectly ripe is to feel the melons. Ripe melons have some very fine veining that you can only detect by touch.
- Honeydews have an exceptionally smooth, pale yellow-green skin and succulent pale green flesh. Beige honeydew with distinct green veins reveals immaturity.
- The melon should not be soft or scarred in any areas and should be somewhat fragrant.
- Examine the color of the melon. There is a netting pattern that covers the second layer of rind. Look through the netting to determine what color is underneath. If it looks green behind the netting, the cantaloupe is not ready for harvest. If the rind behind the netting is a yellow or cream color, the melon is ready to be picked.
- Smell the cantaloupe. There should be a musky smell coming from the melon. If you don't smell anything, the melon is probably not ready to be picked. This musky scent is why some people refer to cantaloupes as “musk melons”. A more intense smell signifies a sweeter melon.
- Look for a hairline crack where the stem joins the melon. If the stem is beginning to separate from the fruit, the melon is ripe.
For more about growing melons, visit: www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/fruit/growing-melons-in-minnesota-home-gardens/.
Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.