I received a recent comment from a gardener inquiring about harvesting ripe watermelons from plants that had volunteered in her home garden.
There’s no guarantee that those rouge plants will produce mature fruits but if they do there are a number of techniques that can be employed to ensure that you harvest the mature watermelons at their peak.
See, Hear, and Feel Your Way to Ripe Watermelons
Many gardeners have trouble determining the best time to pick their home grown watermelons, and many shoppers have difficulty selecting a juicy, ripe watermelon at their local grocer or market. It’s always a big disappointment to lug a nice looking melon home only to discover that it’s hollow hearted, mushy, pithy, or just plain tasteless because it was harvested too early or well past its prime.
The problem is compounded by the fact that watermelons, unlike cantaloupes, will not ripen after they are picked from the vine. But there are a few simple tricks that can make harvesting or selecting a sweet, juicy watermelon more of a skill than a hit or miss gamble. The key is to focus your senses and combine sight, sound, and touch to select perfectly ripe watermelons in the garden or at the market.
If you’re growing watermelons in the garden the first signs of maturity will be visual cues. The underside of the fruit where it rests on the ground will turn a golden, straw-yellow color as the melon matures. For another visual sign of a ripening watermelon locate the curly tendril attached to the vine that is closest to the fruit. As the watermelon matures and ripens this tendril will dry out and become brittle.
Foolproof Methods for Harvesting Ripe Watermelons
A more reliable test for watermelon ripeness, and the one that most expert gardeners rely on is the “thump test.” You may have witnessed a stranger at the market tapping on watermelons with their fingertips or rapping against them with their knuckles as they attempted to choose a good, ripe one.
The secret is that thumping a ripe watermelon will produce a rather hollow sound that’s difficult to describe but once you get the feel for it choosing ripe watermelons will become more routine than a matter of luck. The hollow sound can even be felt with your fingertips, almost as if the fruit contained jello in its center.
This technique may require a little practice and some trial and error, but once you get the hang of it your watermelon harvesting will become easier and more rewarding. For practice, experiment with a bin full of watermelons at the grocer until you can easily distinguish the difference in sound made by a ripe melon.
Acquiring the “Touch” for Selecting Good Watermelons
The final method to judge watermelon ripeness in the garden or at the market is a trick that I picked up from Roger Swain, Science Editor of Horticulture magazine, at this past spring’s Pennsylvania Garden Expo. Roger shared a technique for selecting ripe watermelons that relies entirely on touch and could be performed with your eyes closed if you like.
Simply run your fingers around the center of the watermelon, not lengthwise but around the center of the fruit between the stem end and the blossom end of the melon. An immature watermelon will be smooth to the touch, but as the fruits mature they will develop slight ridges that will be very noticeable as you run your fingers across the rind.
Apply these simple harvesting techniques and the chances are that your next watermelon will be sweet, juicy, and delicious whether it’s harvested fresh from the garden or purchased at your local market.
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