I've never grown watermelon before, but I took the plunge this year
(Petite Yellow from Seed Savers).
The first melon is getting to softball sized and I realize that I
don't know how to tell when a watermelon is ripe. These are the
small sort (in case that wasn't obvious from the name).
Well if you tap your head and it is similar to tapping your melon it is
unripe. If you tap your chest and the sound is similar the melon it is
ripe. If you tap your stomach and the melon sounds similar it is over
Useful for most melons like cantaloup etc.
When melons are peak ripeness, they should pull away from the vine
with a gentle tug. The "umbilical cord" if you will should be at a
dry stage. You shouldn't be tearing out a patch of flesh from the end
of the melon to free it - that's not a "gentle tug".
While they're ripening, keep the watering consistent - if the soil
dries, the melons abort.
That's true for muskmelons, but it's not true for watermelons. You
should wait for a muskmelon to "slip" before harvesting. (And when
you pick a muskmelon at the market, you should avoid any that have
stems or parts of stems attached to them.)
Watermelons will be perfectly ripe well before they slip.
In addition to the 'thump' test Bill described, you can also keep and
eye on the vine tendril nearest the watermelon's stem. When it
starts to dry up, that's usually an indication for ripeness.
The watermelon rind will lose its shine and the surface feels different
when you drag your fingers over it. The bottom will turn from pale
green to white to cream as the watermelon ripens.
But really, picking a ripe watermelon is very much an art, and can
depend on the variety you are growing.
This is a pretty thorough accounting:
to aborting fruit when the vines are under stress. Normally by stress,
we're talking drought, nutrient shortage, extreme heat or cold, disease
or pest loads, but quite often 'stress' is a heavy, early fruit set. So you
shouldn't be surprised to see new little fruits or even blossoms dropping
off when you've already got several good sized ones in development.
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