by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
A hot, dry season is tough on a lot of crops but good for developing quality and flavor in melons. Melons grow best in warm, dry conditions that encourage a balance between fruit growth and vine growth. Bright, sunny days favor sugar accumulation in the melon fruit.
As the name implies, muskmelons develop a strong, musky aroma when ripe. They also"slip" or release from the vine, leaving a clean, dish-shaped scar where the stem was attached. Melons should have a bright, straw color, but some fully ripe melons may still have some green showing. The pleasant aroma may be masked if the melons are held in a cooler. If the melon feels cool-wait until it warms to room temperature for the aroma to develop.
With honeydew melons it is a little more difficult to detect ripeness since they don't slip from the vine or develop the musk aroma. The best indication on a honeydew is to press on the flower end of the melon, opposite the stem. The melon should feel slightly soft when pressed, indicating the melon is starting to ripen.
Watermelons on the vine have a small, curled tendril (a stem-like structure that is curled on the end like a pig's tail) that turns brown and dies when the melon is ripe. The undercolor, or part of the fruit touching the ground, should be buttery yellow. The stem will not 'slip' like a muskmelon but will be attached to the melon. The stem should be fairly green and fresh-indicating the melon has not been off the vine more than 3 to 4 days. Thumping a melon is not a very good indicator of quality since most new, modern melons are very firm and crisp. In earlier times the hollow sound from thumping indicated the melon was ripe. Now about all you can tell is if the melon is seriously overripe. Many markets or stores now sell melons cut into halves or quarters, which allows consumers to view the inside of the fruit before purchase. Make sure, however, that the cut surface is covered with a shrink-wrap plastic so the cut surface is not exposed to air. A cut melon has a shorter shelf life than one that has not been cut.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office