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AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Summertime in the South means the smell of cut grass, playing in the sprinklers and watermelon. The perfect watermelon on a hot summer day is sweet, juicy and bright red. However, picking the perfect ripe watermelon can be tricky.
Joe Kemble, an Alabama Extension vegetable specialist, says there is no single method that is consistently correct to tell if a watermelon is ready. It is usually best to use a combination of several methods to evaluate the ripeness of a watermelon.
If you are growing watermelons from seeds or transplants, don’t forget to note the number of days from seeding to maturity. Most varieties are ready in 80 to 90 days. If you are not sure or lost the seed packet or tag, look up the variety that you are growing on the internet. Growers should be able to find the days to maturity in seed catalogues or gardening articles.
However, be aware this number is not set in stone. Maturity and ripeness can differ based on weather, location and nutritional status of the plants. In some watermelon varieties, the melons may ripen a week earlier or a week later that the listed days to maturity.
The presence of a ground scar (belly spot) can be helpful in some varieties. However, not all varieties develop prominent ground scars. In striped watermelon varieties, the ground scar should be prominent, where the stripes do not show through the scar. For non-striped melons, the ground scars tend to also be prominent.
The idea of thumping is that an unripe watermelon tends to produce a “ping” sound when thumped, while an overripe watermelon tends to produce a “thud” sound. For this method, growers want to find a melon that produces a sound somewhere in the middle.
However, according to Kemble, he has thumped many watermelons over the years and this rarely results in finding the ripest watermelon. Despite the poor success rate, this is the most commonly used method people use for picking a watermelon at a road-side stand or farmers’ market.
Looking at the dried tendril or “pig tail” is another method to identify a ripe watermelon. Kemble says checking the tendril actually works pretty well for seeded varieties, but not for seedless ones. In seeded watermelons, the tendril closest to where the fruit attaches to the plant, dries up when the fruit is ripe. Eight times out of ten this method works.
For more information about watermelons or other summer crops, visit www.aces.edu or contact you county Extension office.