Are your melons sizing up big and bodacious, so appealing that’s the first place your eyes dart when you step into the garden? Go on, admit it (to yourself if not to me) – you couldn’t keep your hands of the first one or two, plucking them from vine in anticipation of the sweet taste of summer.
Then you bit into it, and that bland tasting melon left your hopes dashed in the realization that appearances can be deceiving.
You’re not alone in wondering how to tell if your fruit is ripe. Pick a melon too soon, and their sugars never reach full potential, leaving your taste buds disappointed. Pick too late, and your melon is a mushy mess, so soft your fingers push through the rind when you lift it.
You could check your seed packet for an idea of how large the melon will be at maturity and go with the textbook descriptions of readiness. But gauging ripeness takes finesse and all of your senses – touch, smell, sight – before you reap the rewards. And practice makes perfect.
A better technique is to count the days. Roughly one month after the plant flowers, melons begin ripening.
Look for melons to be full-bodied and heavy for their size; some changes in fruit color to yellow or tan also can occur. They should be neither firm nor soft on the blossom end (opposite the stem) when pressed lightly.
Muskmelons develop a wonderful fragrance and slip from stems easily when ripe. If you look closely at your melon as it nears ripeness, you’ll see a crack develop around the stem as it attaches to the fruit. Go with melon color first for a ripeness indicator, then slipping from the vine.
Honeydews, canary, and watermelons have subtler signals and don’t slip from the vine on their own, so plan to cut them. Look for a slight shift to yellower color with honeydews and canaries.
Watermelons tell you they’re ripe when their belly turns cream or yellow and the two tendrils closest to the fruit have withered. Devotees of the tapping method listen for the sound of a full, drum-like resonance, with high pinging notes indicating under ripeness and lower-sounding thuds over ripeness. Train yourself to hear the sounds by watching the tendrils and belly color, tapping as the fruit ripens.