Yard and Garden: Ripe Melons

AMES, Iowa – Harvesting melons at the right stage of maturity results in high quality, nutritious products. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists tell how to identify ripe melons. To have additional plant and garden questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

How do I know when a watermelon is ready to harvest? 

Harvest watermelons when the underside or belly of the fruit 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 two 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 Fahrenheit.

How can you tell when a muskmelon is ripe? 

The fruit of the muskmelon or cantaloupe is mature when the stem slips easily from the melon with slight pressure. 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. When ripe, the flower end (the end opposite the stem) of the melon should be slightly soft. As the fruit matures, 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 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Before refrigerating, place melons in a plastic bag to prevent the muskmelon aroma from flavoring other stored foods. 

How can you tell when to harvest honeydew melons? 

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 honeydew. Honeydews can be stored for two to three weeks at a temperature of 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.