Yard and Garden: Properly Harvesting and Enjoying Melons

Late summer is a great time to harvest and enjoy homegrown melons. Knowing when to harvest is important for maximum taste. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists share tips on ways to optimize the melon experience. To have additional questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

When do you harvest watermelons?

Watermelons should be harvested 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 cultivars. 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.

When do you harvest muskmelons?

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 of the melon (the end opposite the stem) 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 Fahrenheit. Before refrigerating, place the melons in a plastic bag to prevent the muskmelon aroma from flavoring other stored foods.

When do you harvest honeydews?

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 may also 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.