Melons a sure sign of summer fun

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nothing says summer like ripe, sweet melons. Watermelon is a staple at most Indiana summer picnics.

Many avid gardeners have a special place in their garden and heart for growing melons. Muskmelons and watermelons are members of the same family as pumpkins and gourds. They are Cucurbits which means they have similar growing habits. All of these plants have a sprawling vine growth habit usually with tendrils. All of these have yellow flowers.

Melons can take up a lot of room in the garden, but can also be grown on trellises to save space. Yes, even watermelons can be grown on a trellis.

Choose a variety that doesn't get very large, such as a Sugar Baby watermelons or some of the personal sized watermelons; that way the fruit doesn't make the trellis sag and the fruit doesn't come off the vine prematurely because it too large for the trellis to support.

One of the most popular melons grown in Indiana is the muskmelon, also called cantaloupe. Technically a cantaloupe has a scaly rind whereas muskmelons have orange flesh and a netted rind. In Australia they are called rock melons due to the rough, hard rind.

There are many other melons that can be grown in the home garden. Some of these popular varieties are honeydew melons and casaba melons. Less common are Christmas and Persian melons.

The trick to any of these melons is to make sure that the cultivars you selected have enough time to ripen.

Some Christmas and Persian melons take longer to mature and may need to be started indoors early in the spring to give the plant adequate growing time.

That brings us to the most challenging part of melon culture; how to tell if the melon is ripe. This information can help you not only harvest melons at the correct time, but also choose good melons when shopping.

Telling when a melon is ready to be harvested can be a challenge, or it may be quite easy. It all depends on the type of melon. Let's start with the easy one. Muskmelons are one of those crops that tell you when it is ready to be picked.

As a melon ripens, a layer of cells around the stem softens so the melon detaches easily from the vine. This is called "slipping" and will leave a dish-shaped scar at the point of stem attachment.

When harvesting muskmelons, put a little pressure where the vine attaches to the fruit. If ripe, it will release or "slip." When choosing a melon from those that have already been harvested, look for a clean, dish-shaped scar.

Also, ripe melons have a pleasant, musky aroma if the melons are at room temperature (not refrigerated). If you are harvesting muskmelons do so early in the day after the plants are dry from the morning dew. The rind will change from green to tan or yellow depending on the cultivar planted.

It may be more difficult to tell if watermelons are ready to harvest. Growers often use several techniques to tell when to harvest. First, look for the tendril that attaches at the same point as the melon to dry and turn brown.

On some varieties this will need to be completely dried before the watermelon is ripe. On others it will only need to be in the process of turning brown. Second, the surface of a ripening melon develops a surface roughness (sometimes called "sugar bumps") near the base of the fruit. Third, ripe watermelons normally develop a yellow color on the "ground spot" when ripe. This is the area of the melon that contacts the ground.

Casaba and honeydew melons are best cut off the vine when they turn completely yellow; they will continue to ripen off the vine for a few days if kept at room temperature. Honeydew melons are the most difficult to tell when they are ripe because they do not "slip" like muskmelons.

Actually, there is one variety that does slip called Earlidew, but it is the exception to the rule. Ripe honeydew melons become soft on the flower end of the fruit. The "flower end" is the end opposite where the stem attaches. Also, honeydews should change to a light or yellowish color when ripe, but this changes with the variety.

There is nothing quite like a fresh melon from the garden or farmers market. I hope you enjoy this year's melons. If you have any comments or question please call 653-8411 or email or facebook : Putnam County Agriculture -- Purdue University.

Upcoming Events

Aug. 24 -- Putnam County Health Coalition meeting 2 p.m. at Extension Office

Aug. 31 -- First week of FALL Walking Wednesdays 5 p.m.

Sept. 7 -- Week 2 of FALL Walking Wednesdays 5 p.m.

Sept. 8 -- Extension Homemakers County Council, 7 p.m., Extension Office

Sept. 9 -- 4-H My Record of Achievement Forms Due, Extension Office

Sept. 12--Extension Homemakers Leader Lesson "Recess Time" 7 p.m. at Extension Office

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