In the United States, the familiar melon with sweet, orange flesh and a netted rind is actually muskmelon (Cucumis melo, Reticulatus group). True cantaloupe (Cucumis melo, Cantalupensis group), which has a rough, scaly rind and no raised, netted appearance, is a related plant that isn't grown in the United States. In the home garden, knowing when to harvest muskmelon is critical. Muskmelons harvested too soon are hard and green, while melons harvested too late are soft and don't keep well. Although melons are harvested from late spring until late autumn, June through October is peak harvest time.
1 Look for the green color between the netting to change to golden yellow or tan. A melon with a green rind needs further ripening. However, the change in color is only one indication that the melons are approaching ripeness.
2 Watch for a crack to appear around the stem where it attaches to the melon. This is the primary indication that the melon is ripe and ready to harvest.
3 Apply light pressure by pressing the melon next to the stem gently with your thumb, and then tug the vine. Harvest muskmelons when the melon separates from the vine with a light tug. If the melon doesn't separate easily, the melon is unripe and flavor and quality will be compromised. Unripe melons become softer after harvest, but not sweeter.
4 Harvest muskmelons before the melon separates naturally from the vine. If the melon separates with no assistance, the melon is generally overripe. Although the flavor may be sweet, an overripe melon deteriorates rapidly and must be used soon.
5 Harvest muskmelons every day when the plants are at peak production during hot weather. Otherwise, check the melons for ripeness every other day.
- Harvest muskmelons carefully to avoid damaging the vines. The best time to harvest melons is early in the day when the vines are dry.
- An uncut muskmelon retains its quality for five or six days. Once the melon is cut, cover it securely with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for about three days. The fruit stays more moist if you leave the seeds intact after slicing the melon. Remove the seeds just before eating the sliced melon.
- In the supermarket, a ripe melon has a sweet, musky aroma. The stem end feels slightly soft, but not spongy, when you press it with your thumb. A ripe melon feels heavy in relation to its size.
- University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension: Muskmelon (Cantaloupe)
- University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Cantaloupe: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve and Enjoy
- University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture: Home Gardening Series, Muskmelon
- The Old Farmer's Almanac: Cantaloupe
- Texas A&M Agrilife Extension: Cantaloups
- Real Simple: Fresh Pick: Cantaloupe
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