Harvesting Melons: How do you know when a melon is ripe?

gwtamaraJanuary 1, 2013

This is a difficult thing for the home gardener to determine no matter what melon it is. Even specific types will vary depending on what variety it is. The best way to determine maturity of an entire field is to randomly select melons from across the field and use a hand refractometer to measure the sweetness of the melon. Soluble sugars should be 10% or more near the center of the melon. Since most home gardeners probably aren't going to go so far as to aquire that equipment, here are some tips:

All "melons" are Cucurbits (Cucurbitaceae). The cucurbit family includes species such as the gourd, watermelons, cantaloupes, squash and pumpkins.

Melons like cucumbers require ample moisture for the growth and fruit setting. During the fruiting ripening stage, however, too much water will diminish the flavor of the melons.

1. When harvesting, make sure that the melon is cut from the vine instead of pulled. Pulling creates a cracking wound that pathogens can enter and quickly destroy the quality of the fruit, not to mention ruining the appearance of the fruit. Leave the stems on the melon for as long as possible, and treat for stem end rot after picking.

2. Don't harvest your melons until they are fully ripe. Melons will get softer after they are picked from the vine but they will never get sweeter.

3. Most people tap on the fruit and listen for a dull thump. If you grow many of them, this is an art form.

Muskmelons: Varieties with netted skin such as the muskmelon and Galia types are easy to tell when they are ripe because the fruit pulls off easily or "slips" from the vine.

They should be harvested at full "slip" when the ground color under the net starts to turn yellowish. Eating maturity follows in 1 to 3 days and best flavor is obtained if melons are held near 70 degrees F. for this final ripening. If muskmelons are to be held longer, 50 degrees to 55 degrees F. is best.

Varieties with smooth, harder skins such as honeydews or casabas do not slip and must be cut from the vine. The skins of these varieties actually feel hairy when the fruit is not ripe. As the fruit matures, the skins become smooth and slippery and some varieties change color. When the fruit is fully ripe, the skins change again to have a waxy feel. In addition, the blossom end should have a ripe, fruity smell.

Smell the fruit. Both cantaloupes and honeydew have a strong sweet smell, which is especially evident when the melon is at room temperature.

Listen: Honeydew will rattle from loose seeds when ripe. Cantaloupes are unreliable rattlers and this doesn't work on them. Thump it. Knock on it as if it were a door a couple of times or slap it. A deep and thick dense sound is good a hollow sound can mean insufficient moisture. If ripe, it will resonate with a hollow thump.

Watermelons: It is extremely difficult to tell if a watermelon is ripe by just looking; it must be examined. Watermelons will not continue to ripen after harvest. Hold the harvested fruits...

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