When you’re in the mood for a sweet, refreshing treat with a touch of exoticness, cantaloupe is a real winner. While its need for heat means not everyone can grow it in their backyard garden, if you live in the right climate, you can definitely grow this melon.
Learn when the best time to harvest cantaloupe is, along with all the steps needed to enjoy this yummy treat.
When to harvest cantaloupe? From July to September, your juicy, sweet-tasting cantaloupes will be ready to harvest. This is a large window and it all depends on when you first planted your cantaloupes, what type of climate you are in, and what variety of seeds you used.
There are a few key signs that will alert you that your cantaloupes are ready. First, look for the webbing on the outer rind. This should be raised and rather prominent. Underneath the webbing, your cantaloupe will gradually turn from a green color to a tan or cream color.
Finally, around the base of the stem, where it meets the melon, a small crack will form. Cantaloupes that are harvested too early will not be sweet while those that are harvested too late will be mushy on the inside.
Pay attention to these signs so you can catch your fruit at just the right time. To harvest your cantaloupe from the vine, gently pull on it with two hands. You can give it a slight twist and the fruit should come right off.
If you meet any resistance, stop, and wait a day or two. Once picked, you can eat your cantaloupe right away or put it in the refrigerator for up to a year.
For those that have extra cantaloupe, cut it into small cubes or balls and place it in the freezer. While it won’t have a firm texture when thawed, it will maintain its fresh flavor and is perfect for soups and smoothies.
How do you know when your cantaloupe is ready to harvest?
You can plant cantaloupes seeds in April or May and then they will take between 70 to 90 days to mature, depending on the variety. This means cantaloupes should be ready for harvest around July or August.
While you can ripen cantaloupes off the vine, which we will discuss below, it is much better to wait and allow your cantaloupes to ripen on the vine.
Cantaloupes will vary in size depending on the variety, so size is not the best indicator they are ready. Instead, you want to look at their appearance.
The outside layer of cantaloupes, known as the rind, will change color as it ripens. This color will start out green and then change to a yellow or tan color.
If you pick cantaloupe too early, it means it will lack that characteristic sweetness you want. Cantaloupes that are left too long will turn rather mushy and be unpalatable to eat.
Cantaloupes have a thin netting design on their rind. This should be a pale color, almost white. You want to look beyond the netting to see the rest of the cantaloupe changing from green to yellow.
Another part of the appearance you should watch for is in the stem. There should actually be a crack in the area that the fruit attaches to the stem.
When this crack develops, pick your cantaloupe. If you wait too long and the fruit naturally falls off the vine, it will be overripe.
A final sign your cantaloupe is ready to harvest is with the appearance of the vines. While vines will start off lush and green, as the summer progresses, they will turn dryer and yellow.
When the vines of cantaloupe are dry, this is another sign you can harvest your melons. Just watch out as if there are other melons not quite ready for harvest, you don’t want to damage the dry vines. They are still providing essential nutrients to the rest of the fruit.
What happens if you don’t harvest cantaloupe?
Cantaloupes that remain on the vine will eventually turn to rot. Interestingly, a crack develops between the melon and the vine and if left alone, the melons will naturally fall off.
Despite the thick rind, over time the cantaloupe will start to rot and turn to mush. However, inside that fruit is a rich collection of seeds.
You can still harvest the seeds, even if you don’t pick the melons. Alternatively, you can experiment with nature and see if the melon seeds will naturally produce more plants the following year.
How to harvest cantaloupe?
Luckily, harvesting cantaloupe is extremely easy. The whole plant wants the melons to separate from the vines.
To this end, look for a crack between the melon and the vine. Then, gently hold onto the melon, turn, and pull.
As long as the cantaloupe is ready, it should be extremely simple to remove it from the vine. If you do feel any resistance, stop, and leave the cantaloupe before trying to harvest it again in a day or two.
Some vines produce more than one cantaloupe on them. It’s up to you to decide if you want to allow them all to grow.
The more melons on a vine, the more nutrients your plant will need to nourish all the fruit. If you are worried about the sweetness of your cantaloupes, it’s best to pick off some of the fruit and only have one or two melons per vine.
When there is only one melon on a vine, it is much easier to harvest. However, you can certainly pick multiple melons.
Usually, one melon is ripe before the others are, even on the same vine. Cantaloupes can have a small window of ripeness so if you pick one, be sure to go out every day to monitor the other melons.
How to ripen cantaloupe?
There are a few reasons to harvest cantaloupe before it is ready. The first is if an unexpected cold snap is about to come and the other is if you’re just too excited.
If you find yourself with a bunch of cantaloupe sitting in your kitchen that is sadly not ready to eat yet, don’t despair as there is something you can do about it.
While you shouldn’t expect the sweetest-tasting fruit, you can still make it so that your early cantaloupe has the right texture and juiciness.
First, find a brown paper bag that is large enough and roll your cantaloupe into it. Then, close the top of the bag, leaving plenty of air inside.
As cantaloupe ripens it produces ethylene gas and this is what you want to trap. A higher concentration of the gas will increase the ripening process.
If you’re really impatient, the key to speeding up the process is more ethylene gas. To produce this, add a banana or apple into the bag, to double the amount of gas now trapped inside the paper bag.
Finally, leave the bag on your kitchen counter, at room temperature. Depending on how ripe the cantaloupe was, to begin with, the ripening process can take one to two days.
Check on your fruit periodically as you don’t want your effort to go to waste and now have an overripe fruit.
Should you wash cantaloupe after harvesting?
Cantaloupe does not need to be washed after harvesting. While the outer rind may be dirty, and you can certainly brush off any debris, it is not edible.
You will only be eating the inside of cantaloupe and that is protected by the rind.
Can you eat cantaloupe immediately after harvesting?
Yes, you can eat cantaloupe right away. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of bringing a cantaloupe inside, chopping it up, and digging in.
The only caveat to this is that many people prefer cantaloupe that has been chilled. If you don’t want to wait too long, cut what you need and then put it in the refrigerator. Chopped cantaloupe will become colder much quicker than the whole cantaloupe.
You can store cantaloupe in the fridge if you don’t plan on eating it right away. For maximum shelf life, keep the cantaloupe whole as this will allow it to last for six to seven days.
Cut-up cantaloupe should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. With this method, it will last for three to four days.
With those that have an abundance of cantaloupe, it’s time to get creative. Cut up small chunks of melon and freeze them in airtight containers. Then, place this in the freezer for up to six months.
Just remember that the consistency of cantaloupe will change once it is thawed. Therefore, frozen cantaloupe is best in recipes such as smoothies and soups.
If you live in a climate with long warm summers, you can easily grow cantaloupe in your garden. Wait until it takes on a creamy yellow color and the fruit is ready to fall off the vine. Then, with a gentle pull, it should pop right off and be ready to enjoy.