Is it melon time yet? Depending on which melons you grew and when you planted them, you may already have had your first taste of a delicious homegrown cantaloupe, honeydew or watermelon. Or, you may be looking at the wild vines in your vegetable garden and wondering if your melon is ripe yet. Here's how to tell.
Cantaloupe: Color, Smell and a Slight Tug
The first signal that a cantaloupe (or a muskmelon) is getting ripe is the color under the netting of the fruit changes from green to tan. A ripe cantaloupe also tends to have a pleasant aroma. Finally, check the spot at top of the melon where it attaches to the vine. On an unripe cantaloupe, the stem end will be firmly attached and smooth at the point where it connects with the melon. As it gets riper, the stem end may rise off the fruit slightly. When the melon is ripe, the stem will separate easily from the melon. Many times the melon may detach from the vine on its own. That's why it's important to keep an eye on melons that are ripening so they don't sit in the garden unpicked too long.
Honeydew: A Soft End
Honeydews will not fall off the vine or develop a noticeable pleasant odor, so it's a bit harder to figure out if the melon is ripe. As with cantaloupe, color is your first sign of ripeness. The melon's green rind will take on a creamy yellowish color. If the color is right, gently push on the end of the melon opposite from the stem. If there is a slight give, the melon is probably ripe. These don't come off the vine as easily as cantaloupes, so use a knife or scissors to cut the melon from the vine.
Watermelon: Check the Belly
Watermelons may be the trickiest of the three to determine if a melon is ripe. First, check the tendril that grows on the opposite side of the stem from the melon. This curly tendril will dry up as the melon ripens. If it is perfectly dry, the melon may be ripe. A second test is to look at the "belly" of the melon—the spot where the melon sits on the ground. This area is usually white because it is not exposed to sun. However, as the melon gets ripe, the belly changes from white to a yellow tint. While you may see people thumping watermelons in the grocery store, it's not a particularly reliable way to check ripeness.
The approximate time for harvesting your melons is indicated on the seed packages, too. That is, the package will say how many days to harvest. The cantaloupes I'm growing, for instance, say 60 to 75 days to harvest. I know I didn't get the seeds I started indoors into the garden until mid-June. Counting ahead, I'm guessing my harvest will be sometime in late August. I can hardly wait!