By Lauren Bonar Swezey, Sunset special projects editor
After a warm, three-day weekend, I suspected that some of our specialty melons might be ready to harvest. What an understatement! They were ALL ready. About a week or so ago, we harvested all but one of our ‘Sugar Baby’ watermelons. It’s a short season (70 to 85 days to harvest), icebox type, which simply means that the 8 to 10 pound fruits are small enough to store in the refrigerator (anyone who’s ever tried to jam a full-size watermelon in the frig, should appreciate their small size!).
Now our later-maturing melons—‘Ambrosia’ and ‘Sharlyn’—are ready. ‘Ambrosia’ is a luscious, intensely flavored cantaloupe (a.k.a. muskmelon) that always comes out on top in taste tests. ‘Sharlyn’—another taste test winner—looks like an oval cantaloupe, but the flesh is pale yellow-green. Some say it tastes like a cross between a cantaloupe and honeydew. It’s easy to tell when cantaloupes are mature. They literally slip (detach) from the vine - no cutting involved. (The only exception are the French, cantaloupe-type melons called Charentais, pronounced “sha-rahn-tay;” they must be cut from the vine before they slip. How do you know when these melons are ready? The best indicator is smell. The melon's fragrance should make your mouth water! If it has a strong musky smell, it’s overripe.)
Watermelons don’t slip or have a luscious smell. But once you learn to identify signs of maturity, harvest is easy. As a watermelon ripens and develops its mature color, check the curly tendril that emergesfrom the stem end regularly. When ready to harvest, the bright green tendril dries out and turns brown (shown at top, left in the photo). Also, the spot on the bottom of the melon where it’s been touching the soil turns yellow.
Now that most of the melons have been harvested, we’re ready to test them in recipes for our one-block diet feast—and that means lots of taste tests too. Yum!