After my post last week about harvesting and tasting a couple of melons, I emailed with a reader who was wondering how to tell if her trellised watermelons were ripe and ready to pick.
The real challenge is that the typical “first sign” is to look for the yellow spot on the bottom where it is sitting on the ground…except that there is no spot on trellised melons! The next guideline (which can vary with variety) is to look for the tendril closest to the melon to see if it is dying and drying to brown. The other guideline is to feel the rind for “sugar bumps,” tiny bumps that develop when there is a high sugar concentration, signalling ripeness.
Now in my book, the yellow spot is most reliable, and the options become increasingly unreliable. Sugar bumps? Really? Of course, lots of people use the “thumping” method, but that isn’t very reliable either. I think some people are better at it than others, but you still sometimes get a dud.
Anyway, long story short, I decided to go out and take a look at the vine to see if there was any sign of the tendrils browning – either where we had picked a couple melons earlier this week or next to some of the other melons on the vine. And what do you know? There were brown tendrils!
UPDATE: I picked 3 watermelons on Friday that we tried at the Saturday Sampler this weekend. One was actually overripe and decaying, (which I thought had a still green tendril, but maybe not…) The one that had a fully dried tendril was perfect, and the one that was still drying down was good, but not as good as the other one. So in this case, the tendrils are a good guide!
If you are growing melons in your garden this year (especially if you are trying them for the first time), it can be a challenge to gauge when to pick them. Even us “experts” struggle sometimes.
First, here’s a quick video that covers the basics on cantaloupe and watermelon:
But what if you are growing a different kind of melon? In the Demo Garden this year, we have 4 different melons planted, and only one of them is a true cantaloupe which will “slip” from the vine when ripe. The other three do not have that characteristic of the stem easily separating from the fruit at maturity.
This is the ‘Honey Orange’ honeydew melon (it is an orange-fleshed melon that tastes like a honeydew). Honeydew melons do not “slip,” making it a real challenge to determine if they are ripe. The two keys are supposedly that the rind turns from a green color to a creamy yellow color. Well…I’d say we are there. The other thing to look for is a slightly soft spot on the blossom end (the end away from the stem). We didn’t actually check this, but in hindsight, we probably should have.
You can see that even though it looked ripe, it obviously wasn’t. The flavor was pretty bland and watery, and the flesh is definitely not the deep orange it should have been. Oh well…sometimes you have to pick a melon to learn what ripe looks like!
This is the other melon I’m struggling with: the ‘Lambkin’ melon. We only have a couple set on the vines (and one walked away this weekend), so I’m hesitant to pick it too early. It looks like it is getting close, but I would like to see just a little more yellow coloration before we go ahead and pick it. Maybe next week?