Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: Summer and fall, peaking in August
CHOOSING: Ripe cantaloupes and honeydew melons will smell noticeably fruity at the site where the stem was attached. The other end will give slightly when pressed if the melon is ripe. Ripe watermelons should be heavy with a waxy rind, and the spot where the melon was sitting on the soil should be pale yellow. Also, they’ll sound hollow when thumped. Avoid melons with obvious cuts or bruises.
STORING: Cantaloupes and honeydew melons will continue to ripen if kept at room temperature. Once ripe, place them in the refrigerator for up to a week. Watermelons are as ripe and sweet as they’ll ever be once picked, but they will continue to soften and develop lycopene. They’ll remain in good condition for up to a week in the refrigerator. Wrap any cut melon in plastic, and plan to use it within three days.
GROWING: Cantaloupes, honeydew melons, and watermelons all grow on vines that ramble around the garden, often requiring lots of room to stretch. Some varieties are bush-type, having short vines that are more manageable in small spaces and in containers. Because they can fill your refrigerator, varieties with smaller fruit are popular options. Read the growing instructions on the label to learn what to expect from the variety you choose.
Melons are summer crops that relish warm days and nights that don’t dip below the 60s. Plant seeds in already-warm soil at the spacing recommended on the seed packet. Some varieties push the limit in areas with a limited growing season, needing 70 to 90 days of warmth to mature. Seedlings can be transplanted while young, so if your season is too short, start seeds indoors about two weeks before planting, and choose the warmest location you have, such as one near masonry or paving.
Choose a sunny, well-drained area. Prepare your garden soil by enriching it with compost or other organic matter. Watermelons are deep rooted and drought-resistant once they get going, though other melons may need supplemental watering. You know a cantaloupe or honeydew melon is ready by how easily it detaches from the vine and by the sweet scent. A watermelon is trickier. Look for the curly tendril closest to the melon. When it turns brown, the melon is usually ready.