Harvesting and Storing Melons

Watermelons and muskmelons are delicious summertime treats. To obtain the best flavor, watermelons and muskmelons must be harvested at the right stage of maturity. Once harvested, proper storage prolongs their storage life for as long as possible. Guidelines for harvesting and storing watermelons and muskmelons are presented below.

Watermelon. Harvest when the underside or belly of the melon turns from a greenish white to buttery yellow or cream. This color change is especially pronounced on the dark green skinned varieties. In addition, the fruit tends to lose its slick appearance on top and becomes dull when ripe.

For most individuals, thumping or tapping the melon is generally not a good indicator of ripeness. Rapping an immature melon with your knuckles produces a metallic ring. A ripe melon gives off a hollow or dull ring. Although experienced home gardeners may be able to determine the maturity of watermelons using the thump test, most individuals will have difficulty differentiating between the sounds.

The browning of the pig s tail (light green, curly tendril attached to the vine near the melon) is also not reliable. In some varieties, the pig s tail may turn brown 7 10 days before the melon is ripe.When harvesting watermelons, leave 2 inches of the stem on the fruits. Watermelons can be stored at room temperature for about one week, and for 2 3 weeks at 50 60 F.

Muskmelon. The fruits of muskmelon or cantaloupe are mature when the stem pulls (slips) easily from the melon. The melon is not ripe if the stem has to be forcibly separated from the fruit. Other indicators of maturity are based on touch, appearance, and aroma. The flower end (the end opposite the stem) of the melon should be slightly soft. The skin between the netting turns from green to yellow. Finally, a ripe melon produces a strong muskmelon aroma.

Muskmelons can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. The optimum storage temperature is 32 36 F. Before refrigerating, place the melons in a plastic bag to prevent the muskmelon aroma from favoring other stored foods.

This article originally appeared in the 7/25/2003 issue.

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