Master Gardener addresses ripe melon and garlic harvesting

Chris Himmelwright
Pratt County Master Gardener Chris Himmelwright discusses how to know when a watermelon is ripe.

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 they are ready to be picked. This can help you not only harvest melons at the correct time but also choose good melons when shopping. 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 melons, 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). Watermelons can be more difficult and growers often use several techniques to tell when to harvest. 

1. 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. 

2. The surface of a ripening melon develops a surface roughness (sometimes called “sugar bumps”) near the base of the fruit. 

3. Ripe watermelons normally develop a yellow color on the “ground spot” when ripe. This is the area of the melon that contacts the ground. 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 varies with variety. 

Harvesting Garlic 

While related to onions, garlic needs to be harvested much differently. Garlic is best harvested when it still has five to six green leaves left. Garlic is sensitive to heat and excess sunlight, so leaving garlic in the ground until all the leaves have died down allows potentially hot weather to start "cooking" the bulbs. The more leaves that die, the more likely you are to have some of the outer bulb wrappers split, which lets dirt, moisture and disease organisms into the bulb.  

Garlic has an aggressive root system that makes pulling them difficult if not impossible. Use a shovel or preferably a potato/digging fork to lift the bulbs out of the ground. Carefully knock the loose dirt off the roots. Don’t leave in the bulbs in direct sunlight for very long (more than 15 minutes). Tie up to 10 plants together with twine and hang in a dry and warm location to dry out. Tying more than about 10 plants together can result in longer drying periods and more chance for storage molds to start developing. You want the tops to finish drying down so there is no moisture left in the neck when you cut it. Depending on the year and location, this may take two to six weeks.  

Once the necks are dry, trim the tops back to about 1 inch. "Hard-necked" cultivars will require pruning clippers to do this; "soft-necked" cultivars can be trimmed with heavy scissors. Brush the remaining dirt out of the roots and trim them back to about a quarter of an inch. If outer bulb wrappers are dirty, carefully remove them but don’t remove any more than necessary. Bulb wrappers help protect the cloves. Carefully check each bulb for soundness by gently squeezing the bulb to check firmness. If any bulbs seem excessively soft, set them apart to be used first.  

Like onions, they are best stored in mesh bags and should never be stored in sealed plastic bags. Paper sacks can be used but pack them lightly. Ideal storage conditions are 32 to 35 degrees and 65% to 70% humidity. For most gardeners, you are better to just leave them at cool room temperature. Refrigerator storage conditions very closely replicate fall soil conditions when planting and will stimulate cloves to start bud swelling and germinating. Not all garlic types have the same storage life. Some will only store for four to six months, while others can store for 10 to 12 months. 

Adapted from the Kansas State Horticulture Newsletter