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How to Harvest Cantaloupe in 4 Easy Steps

You have probably heard quite a bit of folk advice on how to tell if a melon is ripe. Give it a squeeze, rap on the rind, and smell the stem scar. So, what is the correct answer? How do you know when a cantaloupe is ripe and ready to pluck? Keep reading to learn how to harvest cantaloupe and how to know for sure that your melons are ripe.

How to Harvest Cantaloupe

How to Harvest Cantaloupe

Once backyard gardeners start growing cantaloupes at home, it’s hard to return to store-bought melons. Homegrown cantaloupe has a delightfully sweet and tropical flavor you can’t get from the grocery store. This is due to the cantaloupe ripening and harvesting process.

If you want to harvest tasty cantaloupes, you must ensure that the fruit is left to ripen on the vine fully. This is why it’s crucial to recognize the difference between unripe and ripe cantaloupes.

Among other key indicators, look for orange-gold skin peeking through prominent webbing on the rind. Before you harvest the cantaloupe, allow it to reach peak maturity. You’ll bite into the sweetest melon slice you’ve ever tasted.

Step 1: Let Cantaloupes Ripen Fully

Cantaloupe harvesting

There is a significant difference in taste between a ripe melon and one that is mature but not quite ready. Ripe fruit has a much higher sugar content than an unripe cantaloupe.

When left to mature on the vine, the uncut cantaloupe stem delivers nutrients that further sweeten the fruit. Leaves on the melon vines use photosynthesis to continue sugar production right up until you harvest the cantaloupe.

Some types of fruits can be harvested early and left to ripen on their own. Melons are different in this respect, and you should harvest cantaloupes as late as possible.

Cantaloupes will soften in texture off the vine, but they will not develop a better flavor. Instead, you will end up with a mildly sweet melon with a pleasant mouthfeel that makes a great base combined with other fruits.

Step 2: Check the Cantaloupe Fruit’s Stem

Cantaloupe growing

Cantaloupes have a built-in way to tell you when they are perfectly ripe. When a plump melon is ready to harvest, the stem will begin to split right where it meets the fruit. This is called the full-slip stage, and it is the best time to harvest a cantaloupe.

This ripening process applies to all melon varieties, including honeydew melons. Unfortunately, most commercial melons get harvested at the half-slip stage. This is when the stem is just starting to show an indentation but hasn’t started separating yet.

Harvesting cantaloupes at the half-slip stage increases the shelf-life at the expense of flavor. Homegrown melons taste so much sweeter since they are allowed to ripen to the full-slip stage.

Check your melon patch regularly for ripeness, as the harvest window can be relatively short. Trace along the extensive cantaloupe vines, checking the stem of each plump fruit. When you see a melon hanging from a cracked stem, it might be ready to harvest.

Step 3: Grasp the Melon Firmly

Cantaloupe garden

Locate the stem that connects the cantaloupe to the vine. Take this vine in one hand and grasp the top of the melon in your other hand. Make sure you continue supporting the vine to avoid causing unnecessary damage.

If the melon is ready to harvest, it might just fall off the vine when you grasp it. This is an excellent stage for eating fresh, but it is also the latest you can harvest a cantaloupe. If you allow the melon to separate from the stem on its own, it will likely be overripe and mushy. This is why it is crucial to check your melon patch daily.

Step 4: Gently Twist and Pull

Cantaloupe plants

You can harvest cantaloupe that is fully ripened with just a light touch. To harvest cantaloupe, hold the vine steady and apply downward pressure on the melon. Continue applying pressure to the fruit while harvesting cantaloupe while simultaneously twisting it around the stem slowly.

If the fruit doesn’t come free while you’re harvesting cantaloupe, don’t force it! Examine the depth of the stem indentation or split. If it isn’t very pronounced, come back in a day or two to try again.

When the cantaloupe shows all other signs of ripeness but still stubbornly clings to the vine, you can resort to cutting the stem with clean garden shears. Just ensure the melon checks all of the ripeness boxes before you clip its stem.

How to Tell When a Cantaloupe is Ripe

Cantaloupes

Cantaloupe plants kindly let you know when their fruit is ripe. When a melon is ready to eat, the stem connecting it to the vine begins to wither and separate from the fruit. This is called the full-slip stage, and it is the best time to pick melons.

The time until you can harvest a cantaloupe depends on the variety and growing conditions. If you planted melon seeds, check the seed packet to find the days to maturity range for your cantaloupe variety.

Did you purchase cantaloupe seedlings and aren’t sure when you should look for ripeness? Most types of cantaloupes reach maturity between 70 to 90 days after planting.

This timeframe can vary by type of melon, so be vigilant. Keep an eye out for stem cracks and other signs of ripeness to ensure your delicious fruits don’t rot before you can enjoy them. Check out our complete guide on how to tell if a cantaloupe is ripe for more information.

Color

The skin of a fresh cantaloupe is indicative of its ripeness. The golden color of the inner skin gets more saturated as the melon ripens. Furthermore, the texture of the rind goes from relatively smooth to the characteristic cantaloupe skin.

The outer skin of a ripe cantaloupe is a prominent webbing veiling a golden-colored inner skin. The lacey webbing matures from pale green to cream-colored when ripe.

Several melon varieties have skin similar to the true cantaloupe. Ensure you understand which cantaloupe type you are growing, so you know what to look for when harvest season comes.

Smell

The smell of fresh-cut cantaloupe is an enticing and vaguely tropical aroma that is sure to get your mouth watering. This delicious aroma will permeate the garden near your melon patch as the fruit matures. This is when you know your ripe cantaloupes are ready to harvest.

The nose knows—as the saying goes. To an experienced gardener, there is no better way to gauge the ripeness of homegrown fruit than a quick sniff.

If you are new to growing cantaloupe, then ensure you observe other signs indicating that the fruit is ready besides just scent. Soon enough, you’ll head out to harvest cantaloupes without a second thought once their distinctive fragrance floats by on a breeze.

Why Cantaloupes Should Ripen on the Vine

Cantaloupe on the vine

You should only harvest cantaloupe when it’s mature but unripe if you are in a much cooler climate with a short growing season.

Do you live in such an area? If so, you might plant cantaloupe and other summer melons in containers. This way, they can fully ripen indoors out of the cold, and you can harvest cantaloupe before it fully ripens.

While the texture of an unripe cantaloupe will improve over time, the sugar content won’t increase once the stem is severed. Sugar production only continues while the fruit can still take advantage of photosynthesis.

If you need to harvest cantaloupes before they are ready, you can freeze these nutritious melons for smoothies. You can also add these frozen treats to your favorite blended cocktail.

Use a melon baller to carve out cantaloupe flesh sections. Spread them in even layers in a freezer-safe container separated by sheets of wax paper. Frozen cantaloupe balls will stay tasty for up to a year.

How to Harvest the Best Cantaloupe

The secret to harvesting cantaloupes that are the best-tasting is letting the fruit ripen fully on the vine. When harvest time comes, you will be delighted by the sweetest and juiciest melons. Once you try ripe, homegrown melons, you might never buy them from the supermarket again! Now that you know how to harvest cantaloupe, you should check out more of our cantaloupe growing guides.