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When to harvest Melons and Pumpkins
8/10/2011 | Sheryl McGlochlin

Article image: When to harvest Melons and Pumpkins

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

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 at 50 degrees to 60 degrees F. Here are indications you can look for:

1. Thump it. If the watermelon sounds hollow (if you hear a dull thump/thud), the melon is usually ripe. This is difficult for less-gifted ears. The unripe melon will have a tighter, metallic ringing or hollow sound. This technique is not perfect however, because the dull sound you hear doesn't indicate if the melon is overripe.

2. Use the criteria of approximate size for variety,

3. Ceasing of growth.

4. Look at the color on the top. The watermelon is ripe when there is little contrast between the stripes. Another indication is when the surface color of the fruit turns dull.

5. Look for the spot where the melon rested on the ground; a yellow-white, yellow or a cream-yellow color spot suggests ripeness and a white or pale green spot indicates immaturity. A green watermelon will have a white bottom; a ripe melon will have a cream- or yellow-colored bottom. Those fruit that show a change of color from green or olive-grey to yellowish brown should be considered ready to harvest. Also look for a breakup of green bands at the blossom end of the fruit. For best quality, walk the patch daily.

6. The rind at the soil spot should toughen and resist denting with a fingernail when the melon is ripe. Scratch the surface of the rind with your thumbnail. If the outer layer slips back with little resistance, showing a green-white color under the rind, the watermelon is ripe. Feel for development of ribbed indentations that can be felt with finger tips. It should be firm but not a rock. If soft or soft spots it€s too far gone. Sponginess is bad.

7. Press on it. If the watermelon sounds like it gives a little, it's ripe. (This method can also ruin the quality of the fruit.)

8. Check the tendril. If the tendril is green, you should wait to pick the melon. Harvest when the curled tendril near the stem, the "pigtail" or tendril closest to the melon on the vine begins to shrivel and dry up. If it dries while the leaves and rest of the vine looks good, the melon should be ripe.

9. Harvest when a small crack appears in the stem just above the melon indicating the melon is ripe. If it's half-dead, it could mean that the watermelon is nearly ripe or ripe. If the tendril is fully dead, it could mean that anthracnose or some other fungus killed the melon, or that it's ripe or overripe. The drying of the stem tendril nearest the attachment point and green color tone are also indicators of ripeness. Sign vary with cultivars.

10. Count the number of days from anthesis (flowering) or the number of days from planting. This works pretty well if you know the variety of watermelon and how many days it's supposed to take for that variety to ripen under normal temperature and fertilizer regimes.

11. The slipping of the stem from the melon with slight finger pressure is an excellent indicator of melon ripeness in the field.

Hold a melon up to your ear, if you can feel it squeeze and hear a slight mush instead of a crack it is ripe.

7 Check the size. It's not necessarily true that when a watermelon is big enough, it's ready; but under good conditions, it should be normal size. If it's not, you're probably too anxious.

8 Crack a few. You've got a whole field of watermelons, and you can practice a little, right?

9 Is the vine dead or dying? Well, the watermelon is not going to get any riper, so you might as well pick it

10. Rely on your nose, and look for a melon with the strongest fragrance, for this will most likely be the best tasting. Breath deeply and follow your nose to the sweet ripe melon. Sniff the aromatic one out. Next, look for a melon that is heavy for its size, because if you have two melons of equal size, the heavier one is almost assuredly the riper and better tasting melon. Smell is something you learn with experience.

11. Still confulsed? Guess. All indicators will not always work. Take your best shot and go with it.€€