Melons won't ripen after being picked. So if you've been nurturing these green or gold beauties for months, proper timing is important. It's natural to be eager to harvest, especially if you're craving a juicy and sweet slice of melon, but knowing when to harvest melons is key.
You may have heard of the thump test or spotted people in grocery stores lightly rapping melons, listening for the proper "thunk" sound. A hollow thunk, especially on watermelon, indicates maximum juiciness and ripeness. A more metallic sound can indicate it's not ready. You risk having flesh that's hard, pale and lacking that explosion of flavor.
Fortunately for gardeners, there are other indicators for ripeness that have nothing to do with being able to discern a hollow thump. So get ready to slice up and savor summer's juiciest treats.
When to Harvest Melons
One of the surer signs of when to harvest melons is to examine the stems, which usually show signs of cracking. Vine tendrils closest to the melon may turn brown and start to dry up as it nears ripeness.
The sweet fragrance of the fruit is another telltale sign your melons are ready for harvesting. The melons also should separate from the stem with pressure; some may separate more easily than others, such as cantaloupe. Finally, the blossom end of the fruit (opposite of the stem) will sometimes be slightly soft with cantaloupe and smaller melons.
Your fruit harvest can be stored at room temperature for about one week and for two to three weeks at 50 to 60 degrees. Ideally, you'll want to harvest the fruit and eat it as soon as possible for optimal sweetness and flavor.
Harvest Cues for Watermelon
A great visual clue for knowing when to harvest melons is to check the tendril next to where the fruit is attached to see if it has turned brown, and to also check the pale spot where the melon usually sits on the ground. With watermelon, these spots usually turn from white or greenish-white to a creamy or buttery yellow color when it's ready for harvest.
Watermelon skin, which is solid green or striped in most varieties or rich yellow in varieties such as 'Gold in Gold' or 'Red in Gold' hybrids, also tends to change from a shiny sheen to a duller matte appearance.
Try new varieties and find your favorite melon. Watermelons can come in all sizes, from 8-inch 'Little Darling' hybrid watermelon to the feed-a-crowd striped 'Georgia Rattlesnake' and 'Charleston Gray' varieties.
Tips for Harvesting Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe skin progresses from green to yellow or tan with the "netting" texture becoming more pronounced when it's ripe. Some melons have smoother, more golden skin such as the 'Mango' hybrid. Hang on to seed packets for estimates on when the fruit will be ripe and for photos of peak colors as a reference tool. When in doubt, follow the usual steps: Smell for ripeness, and check the stem for cracking and easy release from the fruit, commonly referred to as "slip."
Helpful Melon Growing Tips
Melons can take 80 to 90 days to ripen and can't thrive outdoors until the soil is warmed to about 65 to 70 degrees. Direct sowing outdoors is recommended, but you can give seeds a three to four week head start indoors if you live in northern areas with short growing seasons. Melons are also ideal candidates for raised beds or mounds of soil in gardens that thaw early.
Melon plants require healthy soil and at least an inch of moisture a week and up to 2 inches a week before fruit first appears on the vine. Mulch beneath your melons to conserve soil moisture and to keep them clean and dry until harvest. Smaller melons may be able to grow on a sturdy trellis. You can also keep fruit protected from the ground and maximize airflow around them with melon cradles.
For history, expanded growing advice and recipe inspiration, check out the Burpee guides on cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon.