July 23, 2020
When my family sold and raised watermelons, our customers had their own ways to determine which melon was best. Some picked the melons up and shook them. I assume they did so to determine the weight and suitability for their family size.
Some thumbed the melon and listened for the sound. My father said that method was not a reliable way to determine if a melon was ripe.
“Others insisted a selected melon had to first be plugged. To do this we had a special knife which would reach to the melon’s heart and withdraw a round cylinder. Plugged melons were almost always good melons for the heart is the best part of the melon.
Dad discouraged melon plugging for if the customer rejected a good melon as not meeting their expectations, it couldn’t be sold to anyone else.
When going to the melon patch to harvest melons, Dad’s goal was to only pick the best melons and he did it by observation.
This week a story from Ward Upham, the horticulture expert at Kansas State University, confirms what my father taught me.
Upham said the thump test is not the best way to pick a good watermelon.
While it’s common in most grocery stores this time of year to find shoppers who swear by the theory that a good “thump” on the outside of a watermelon is a sure way to pick a winner. Upham, said there’s a more scientific way to take home a great-tasting watermelon.
“Ripe watermelons normally develop a yellow color on the ‘ground spot’ when ripe,” Upham said. “This is the area that contacts the ground.”
Upham said the depth of the yellow varies depending on the type of melon. “Most striped melons should have a bright, buttery yellow color, and dark green watermelons a deep yellow color. Light green melons develop a light yellow coloration. As a general rule, if the ground spot has a cream-like, off-white color, the watermelon is not ripe.”
When picking watermelons in a field, Upham advises looking for the tendril that attaches at the same point of the melon to dry and turn brown. “On some varieties, this will need to be completely dried before the watermelon is ripe,” he said. “On others, it will only need to be in the process of turning brown.”
A ripe watermelon typically will develop a roughness on its surface (sometimes called sugar bumps) near the base of the fruit. In the field, that’s when growers should harvest the fruit.
Dad and Upham most have gone to the same watermelon picking school. Dad favored the tendril test.
Many other melons also are in season right now and reading Upham’s advice reminded me of what my father taught.
“Muskmelons are one of those crops that tell you when they are ready to be picked,” Upham said. “As a melon ripens, a layer of cells around the stem softens so the melon detaches easily from the vine. This is called ‘slipping’ and will leave a dish-shaped scar where the stem attaches.”
When harvesting muskmelons, he notes, put a little pressure where the vine attaches to the fruit. “If it’s ripe, the melon will release, or ‘slip,’” he said.
Ripe melons usually will have the dish-shaped scar where the stem was attached. Upham added they will also have a pleasant, musky aroma if they’ve been held at room temperature for a period of time, rather than refrigerated.
“Honeydew melons are the most difficult to tell when they are ripe because they do not ‘slip’ like muskmelons,” Upham said, noting that the Earlidew variety is an exception. “Ripe honeydew melons become soft on the flower end of the fruit, which is the end opposite where the stem attaches. Also, honeydews should change to a light or yellowish color when ripe, but this varies with variety.”
My father had so much trouble trying to learn how to pick honeydew melons that he quit trying to raise them.
He also had trouble with the small sugar baby watermelons and discouraged me from planting them. He thought both were hard to pick.
My parents enjoyed raising and selling watermelons and both suggested raising watermelons would be a good retirement vocation for me. But the business has changed a great deal since they were active in. There was a time when locally raised melons had most of the local market and melons were only available a few weeks in the fall. Now they are raised somewhere else and shipped in. By the time local melons are ready for market, many customers have had their fill and aren’t interested in buying more.
Probably even more important is my lack of training. I know how to plant, hoe and stack melons but Dad didn’t teach me how to pick. When it came time to harvest, he picked while I rode in the trailer. My job was the catch and stack the melons he tossed my way.