The Hort Report: Try these tips when determining if watermelons, cantaloupes are ripe

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The tendril is a leaf stem directly across from the stem that the watermelon is attached to. The watermelon and tendril are both attached to the vine that supplies water and nutrients to them both from the watermelon plant’s stem.  | Photo courtesy of Pat Greenwell

The weather over the past few days has been really nice, especially when compared to the weather we had for all of the Dog Days of Summer. 

The Dog Days of Summer ended on Friday, Aug. 11. It’s too bad we didn’t get all this much-needed rain in the early spring. The weather is finally getting back to normal for this time of year, so enjoy the weather and thank God for all the great rain we have gotten.

The recent rain means the grass is growing again. As you mow, don’t mow it too short or too often. The grass should be OK for now and continue growing until the first killing frost. 

With the growing season back on track, we are beginning to see many types of crops becoming ready to harvest. A few people have asked when to harvest watermelons and cantaloupes. 

As watermelons start to grow, you don’t want to roll them over or move them around much once they start to form and grow on the vine. Make sure watermelons are getting plenty of water and nutrients so they will grow as large as possible. Watermelons will ripen and grow at a different pace due to their types and varieties.

My grandad Pete Greenwell raised a lot of watermelons over the years. He would always tell me to thumb the watermelon by flicking your finger on it to see what sound it would make. If you heard a ping when you flicked it, the watermelon isn’t ripe. If you heard a deep thud when you flicked it, the watermelon is over ripe. Try to pick one that sounds in between — which is difficult to do sometimes. 

 Another way to determine if a watermelon is ready to harvest is to see if the underside of the watermelon is changing color. It needs to change color from a dark green as it is forming to a dark shade of greenish yellow, then to a pale dull yellow. Once it turns a pale yellow, it is time to be thinking about picking it.

The best way might be look at the tendril on the watermelon’s vine. If the tendril is dead on the vine, the watermelon should be ready to pick and eat. 

What is a tendril? It is a leaf stem is directly across from the stem that the watermelon is attached to. The watermelon and tendril are both attached to the vine that supplies water and nutrients to them both from the watermelon plant’s stem. 

When I helped Grandad Pete pick watermelons, I was more interested in picking and eating them than seeing if they were ready to pick and eat. After picking a few that weren’t ready, Pete would say, “Pat, just let me do the picking myself. You carry them out of the watermelon patch.”

You want the inside of a watermelon to have a nice dark red color on the inside once you cut it open. If the inside is a lighter color red or pink, the watermelon was picked too soon.  

How do you know what watermelon to choose when you are buying them at a store or farmers market after they have been picked? 

Look at how dry the stem on the watermelon is. The drier the stem, the riper the watermelon was when it was picked. If the stem is fat and green looking, then the watermelon might not have ripened on the vine. 

The watermelon should be smooth and even all over the outside, not one with a rough skin where it looks like something has grown into it or it laid on it while it was growing. 

The heavier the watermelon is, the higher the water content is. This means the inside of the watermelon is containing water. The more water in a watermelon, the sweeter the taste will be. A lighter watermelon will not taste as good. The inside flesh of the watermelon will be crumbly. 

Get a watermelon with a good yellow color on the bottom of it. This means it was most likely picked at the right time. 

What about picking a cantaloupe? It should have a nice dark yellow orange color to it between the webbing that runs along the outside of a cantaloupe. If the color is green to a light green between the webbing, it is not ripe yet. 

Look at the stem end of the cantaloupe. If there is cracking around the stem end and it looks like it would just snap off, it is ripe. This is a good indicator that the cantaloupe is ripe and ready to be picked. 

Check the tendril to see if it has dried up. Sometimes with cantaloupes the tendril is harder to see — at least for me, anyway.

If all else fails, see if the outer skin is beginning to crack along the webbing of the cantaloupe. If this is happening and you notice a sweet smell when you are around your cantaloupes, they are ready to be picked. 

When you are trying to pick a cantaloupe at a store or farmers market, look at the color between the webbing of the cantaloupe. If it has a dark yellow orange color, then it is good to buy. 

Look at the end where the stem was attached. Ones with cracking around the stem are good ripe cantaloupes to buy. If the skin is beginning to crack along the webbing of the cantaloupe and the smell is sweet, it is a good ripe cantaloupe to buy. 

Hopefully many of you will be harvesting your watermelons and cantaloupes in the coming days. Pick them at the proper time if you aren’t already harvesting some.

I really appreciate your questions and look forward to them in the coming days. Your questions help me write The Hort Report. I was telling family members this past weekend about this. By you asking questions, I need to do research to make sure I give you the right answer. 

If you have questions, call me at 573-588-2040 at Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, Mo. Better yet, just come out and see me. 

Remember to thank God for all the rain we have received the past few weeks. Enjoy the regrowth of everything.

Pat Greenwell is the owner of Shelby County Implement in Shelbina, Mo. He was a high school agriculture teacher for 11 years. He has taught adult vocational agriculture since 1987. He also is a research assistant at the Truman State University Ag Department Farm. 

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