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How to Harvest and Store Melons

Melon harvestHarvest melons when small cracks appear in the stem where it joins the fruit. Once the cracks circle the stem and the stem looks shriveled, the melon will break off with a slight twist. If more than light effort is needed to remove from the vine, it is not ripe.

When to Harvest Melons

  • Harvest smooth-skinned muskmelons—which include honeydew, Crenshaw, and casaba–when they turn cream-colored. The blossom end will give slightly when pressed, and the fruit will readily separate from the stem.
  • Harvest net-skinned cantaloupe when the rind netting changes from gray-green to creamy and the background turns golden.  The fruit will have a sweet-musky aroma, and the stem will slip easily from the fruit.
  • Harvest watermelon when the ground spot–where the melon rests on the ground–turns a creamy yellow and the stem turns brown and begins to curl.
  • Melons on the same vine typically ripen over a short period of time. As soon as the first melon is ripe, the others will come to harvest within 3 to 4 weeks.
  • After the first melon is harvested, cut back on watering—just enough to keep the vines from wilting; this will concentrate sugars in the fruit.

How to Know a Melon Is Ripe

Here are some general rules for judging the ripeness of a melon:

  • Smell – the melon will have a strong, “musky” or perfumey aroma at the stem-end of the melon.
  • Skin — the melon’s skin color will change, from green to yellow or tan for muskmelons and cantaloupes; the underside of a watermelon will change from green to creamy where it touches the ground.
  • Stem – the stems will separate or slip from the fruit with little effort. First, a concentric crack will appear where the stem and the fruit meet then the stem will completely separate (called “full slip”). When signs of slip appear the fruit is ripe and should be picked and eaten within a few days; don’t let the fruit turn soft and mushy.
Use a garden pruner to cut the melon from the vine if it does not slip away easily.

How to Harvest Melons

  • A fully ripe melon will separate from the vine with light pressure. You can also cut melons from the vine with a sharp knife, garden pruner or lopper.
  • Leave an inch of stem attached to the fruit to keep it from rotting if you don’t plan to use a harvested melon immediately.

More tips on growing melons at How to Grow Muskmelon or Cantaloupe and also at How to Grow Winter Melons.

melon in kitchen
For best flavor, allow a melon to rest for a day or two before serving

How to Store Melons

  • For best flavor, allow a melon to rest for a day or two before serving.
  • Store whole ripe melons in the refrigerator for up to a week to avoid spoiling; cut melons will keep for up to three days. If you have ripe melons you can’t use immediately, dice or cut the flesh into balls and freeze for slushies or cold soup.
  • Store melon slices in a perforated plastic bag in a refrigerator. You can purchase perforated plastic bags or make your own by punching 20 holes in a medium-size bag; use a hole punch or sharp object.
  • Melons should be kept cold and moist (50°F/10°C and 95 percent relative humidity). Creating cold and moist storage is a challenge: refrigerators provide the cold, but also have dry air.
  • Melons are susceptible to chilling injury at temperatures below 50°F; chilling injury symptoms include surface pitting, water loss, yellow, browning of rinds, decreased sweetness, and rapid deterioration.

More tips at How to Grow Melons.

 

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. My honeydew are just getting melons on the plant ,They are about the size of a dime . Lots of flowers on the plant now ; However, will there be enough time for them to reach maturity ? First time growing them and they are climbing up the bamboo stakes really good no damaged leaves , very clean plants .

    • Your baby melons may make it to maturity if there at 6 very warm weeks of growing season left. Once they are about baseball size, place a piece of foil under them to help them soak up reflected solar heat. Feed them a dilute solution of fish emulsion every 10 days to keep them strong and growing. If Mother Nature gives them enough warm weather, they can still reach maturity and harvest.

  2. Thank-you so much for your awesome tips , I’ve been covering my honeydew plant most nights seeing as we’ve been getting single digits for over a week . So far only one honeydew , which is the size larger than than a softball . I’ve been pinching some of the flowers back to see if I can’t produce more fruit … Not sure of anything else I can do …

    • Set a dark-colored tile or piece of plastic under the fruit; these will soak up solar heat and help the melon to ripen.

    • A melon will continue to ripen off the vine–that is the flesh will continue to soften and become jucier, but the sugar content will not increase; so the flavor my not be good.

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