5 Steps to Picking Ripe Watermelons

5 Steps to Picking Ripe Watermelons

Americans have taken much joy in fresh watermelons.  Their roots run deep into American history, particularly in the South where they thrive in its warm weather.  Philip Henry Gosse, a 19th century English naturalist, describes the watermelon and its subsequent part on Southern hospitality during his stay in Alabama.  In his published journal, Letters from Alabama, he writes in an entry dated July 15th, 1838, “The water-melon (Cucurbita citrullus), is deservingly esteemed; as I know not a more cooling or delicious fruit in the heat of summer…If a guest call, the first offering of friendship is a glass of cold water as soon as seated; then there is an immediate shout for water-melons, and each taking his own, several are destroyed before the knife is laid down.”

As with most fruits, the flavor of the watermelon greatly depends on the level of ripeness.  Watermelons go from bland to sweet in flavor in just a couple of days, and once picked, the melons stop developing flavor.

5 Steps to Determine Watermelon Ripeness - just use your senses.
5 Steps to Determine Watermelon Ripeness – just use your senses.

A ripe watermelon looks the same as an unripe one.  Subtle changes do exist, however, but the gardener must form an eye to it.  The Alabamians evidently knew how to pick the ripest melons, or Gosse’s favorable account of a porch full of happy seed spittin’  Southerners would have been much different.

Look for these 5 characteristics when picking your next watermelon to eat.

  1.  Look at the watermelon.  The melon should be firm, heavy, and bruise free.  The skin should be dull and the stripes near the top (if it has any) should be faded and less obvious than when younger.  The bottom, where the melon rested on the ground, should be a yellow-cream color and not an immature white or green.
  2.  Scratch the bottom of the watermelonThe rind should be tough and resist denting, and instead tear and slip to show a light green under the rind.
  3.  Thump the watermelon.  This is a classic way to test ripeness.  A ripe melon should have a low, dull, solid thud, like a hardwood door.  If the melon sounds more like the hollow knock of an aluminum door, instead of a solid oak one, the melon is not ripe yet.  This method takes a bit of practice, but produces great results.  Be careful, however, overripe fruit sound similar to ripe ones.
  4. Check the tendril nearest the Watermelon.  The little “pigtail” should begin to die back as the melon reaches maturity.
  5.  Look at the stem.  It will begin to crack near the watermelon when ripe.

I am not yet putting this into the post, but I have taken a poll recently on social media as to how people pick their watermelons. Quite a few folks gave me the most interesting answer. Here are the instructions to the straw method: Place a piece of straw from a broom or the side of the road or yard across the watermelon lengthwise. Let go of the straw and if it begins to spin (and they say it will be fascinating!), the more it spins, the more ripe the watermelon will be. Can you believe that? Is this ‘wives tale’ true? You gotta know that I am going to be trying it. I will let you know of the results in a follow-up post!

Please comment if you have done this or if you have other ways to foretell the ripeness of a watermelon. I would also LOVE to hear your memories of eating watermelon. I think we all have them. I would like to use a few of them in another book I am writing.

Back to the real blog:

 If your watermelon meets the majority of the above criteria, then it is ready to harvest.  Harvest watermelons with a sharp knife or shears, to prevent disease, and store in a cool location (optimally 50-60 degrees).

If none of your watermelons are ripe, and you wish to know how much longer you must wait, look at the maturity date for your variety, usually 70-90 days, and subtract the days expired since planting.

Happy Watermelon and Seed Spittin’ Days!


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  1. Yes, the bottom of the Melon that was lying on the ground will turn a Yellowish to Tan Color, the Pig Tail(Stem) will turn Brownish to a Darker Color and will show the Cracking Into it also. Also lots judge by the Thumping Sound and by the belly of the Melon as Stated above !! I on the other hand have had my best luck from the Straw method as it will either spin around & around or it will spin back & forth showing the more movement means the Riper the Melon. Give all these methods a try and have family and friends also help trying these out, that will give you more opinions from just yourself and then do the Math for the best all around method !! Best of luck and hope you get to Eat Plenty of Watermelon that Taste Great for you and your Family & Friends !!
    PS:: I will for sure enjoy Eating All I can find that are Good !! LOL !!

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      Thanks Billy. That is so cool. I can’t wait to give this a try!

  2. I used to shop from an old Italian farmers road side stand. He had a sign over his watermelons that said – “A watermelon is like a woman. You can sniff it, thump it, pat it, lift it, flick it, turn it over and around, but you aren’t going to know what she is like until you take her home and take her clothes off.” LOL. True story. I loved the guy.

    My garden area isn’t big enough to grow melons, so I depend on the stores to know. I have tried testing and I’m about 50% right. I guess I read that sign too often, and his melons were always great, so didn’t worry. Now, I will try and use your info when I get a melon, thanks for the info.

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      Great story Papa J! The Italian farmer probably has it right. I have been married for 21 years and am still learning new things about my husband. As far as the watermelon, I think you can follow a few steps, but until you cut into it, you never really 100% know.

  3. I’ve never seen a straw spin more than halfway. Lay it lengthways with the watermelon, and it will spin sideways if ripe. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      I am going to do a test with this method in the next few weeks. Stay tuned. I can’t wait to watch this work.

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