Garden Clippings: Ready for Harvest

How to recognize when crops are ready for harvest.

| August 2008

  • iStock_000003846069.jpg

  • iStock_000003846069.jpg

A recent trip through the vegetable garden reminded me that even with the heat, this time of year is a gardener's delight. Buckets of tomatoes and peppers make us oblivious to insect bites and sweat on the brow.

Some crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, are easy to recognize when they're ready for harvest. Others, though, such as Ambrosia muskmelon, are not as easily recognized.

This year, I wove the vine of my lone muskmelon around a bush cucumber and a couple of tomato plants, because small yards just don't have the room to grow these sprawling vines. However, because we don't see the melons easily, it can be hard to tell when they are at their best.

A muskmelon is ready to be picked when the stem slips off easily. When this occurs, the melon is left with a craterlike scar, which is a good indication at the produce stand that it was ripe when it was harvested. This indicator, however, does not apply to honeydew melons, because they don't slip from the vine. Instead, put a little pressure on the blossom end of a ripe honeydew. If it has a somewhat soft feel, it's ready.

Knowing that the muskmelon you pick from the garden is mature is important, because muskmelons do not continue to ripen after they are removed from the vine. A muskmelon that is harvested before it's ripe may look and feel nice, but it will disappoint the taste buds.

A ripe muskmelon will only keep for about a week - even in the refrigerator - so make sure the neighbors get a share of this crop so it doesn't go to waste. Ambrosia has an even shorter shelf life than most muskmelons. It is at its best for only about four days, but since it's a favorite, I'm willing to pay that price.

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