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Picking a Perfectly Ripe Melon

Category Fruit

Harvesting a sweet juicy melon straight out of the garden is one of summer's purest delights. Figuring out when a melon is perfect for the picking, however, takes experience and a bit of luck. Here are some tips to help you harvest your melons at the peak of their flavor.

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Leave 'Em On the Vine

A melon's flavor comes primarily from its sugar content, which is pumped into the fruit from the leaves as the fruit matures. Once harvested, the fruit receives no more sugar. Changes in flavor and texture will continue to occur, however, so it's always best to leave your melons on the vine as long as possible.

Water Them Wisely

According to reports from the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA, waterlogged soil dilutes melon flavor, so to preserve the flavor, commercial melon growers stop watering their melon crops 8-10 days prior to harvest. This period of "drying" allows the fruits to develop the sugars that give them their sweet flavor. In the backyard garden, heavy rains or watering them just before harvest can produce the same effect. Stop watering 8-10 days prior to harvesting.

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Watch The Weather

As your melons approach maturity, start watching the forecast. Even without continued rain, a combination of cloudy weather and wet soil can be enough to halt sugar production and dilute some of the sugars already present. If the weatherman predicts cloudy, rainy weather just days before you expect to harvest, either pick them early or delay your harvest by 6-7 days to give your melons a chance to resume sweetening.

The timing of harvest will also affect the flavor of the fruit so a gardener should strive to pick them at their prime.

Harvesting By Melon Type

Watermelons

If you truly want to take the guesswork out of it, mark your calendar on the day the female flowers fully open, then count off 35 days. According to scientific "theory" your melon should be ready.

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Cues To Ripening:

  • When the little pigtail tendril where the melon joins the vine withers and dries, your watermelon should be ripe.
  • The spot on the bottom of the watermelon turns from white to creamy yellow in color and doesn't dent easily.
  • The top of the watermelon turns dull in color and (in striped cultivars) the contrast between the stripes diminishes.
  • When you "thump" your watermelon you hear a deep, hollow sound.

Muskmelons

The terms muskmelon and cantelope are often use interchangably, but cantelopes are actually a cultivated variety of muskmelon, as are honeydew.

  • The long stem with a small leaf on it where the vine joins the melon turns paler than the other leaves.
  • The joint where the vine joins the melon is completely dry and does not resist breaking away from the vine (comes off without any tugging).
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  • In cantaloupes, the rind changes from a green to tan or yellow between the netting. (The netting is the series of raised lines that create a netlike pattern across the fruit).
  • In honeydews the blossom ends will be slightly soft to pressure. The skin should be slightly slippery and smooth.
  • All muskmelons tend to smell sweet and fruity when they are ripe.
  • The fruit slips easily from the stem (without tugging) leaving the scar on the rind exposed.
  • "Sugar cracks" and streaky yellow blotches sometimes appear on the surface of honeydews when they are ripe.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.


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