By Richard Jauron
Iowa State University Extension
Watermelons, muskmelons and honeydews are delicious summertime treats. To obtain the best flavor, melons must be harvested at the right stage of maturity. Once harvested, proper storage prolongs their quality for as long as possible. Guidelines for harvesting and storing watermelons, muskmelons and honeydews 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. While 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.
When harvesting watermelons, leave 2 inches of the stem on the fruit. Watermelons can be stored at room temperature for about one week, and for two to three weeks at 50 to 60 degrees F.
Muskmelon--The fruit 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 at maturity. 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 to 36 degrees F. Before refrigerating, place the melons in a plastic bag to prevent the muskmelon aroma from flavoring other stored foods.
Honeydew--Unlike muskmelons, the fruit of honeydews do not slip off the vine when mature. The best indicator of ripeness is a slight softening of the blossom end of the fruit. There also may be a subtle change in the color of the melon. Honeydews can be stored for two to three weeks at a temperature of 45 to 50 degrees F.