“And you must learn the ways of the melons if you are to come with me to harvest them…”
~ It’s a good thing Obi Wan Kenobi wasn’t a farmer, otherwise he would have said things like that. Seriously!
I was quite honoured this year when my boss asked me to harvest melons, because it’s not so simple. Every evening (and morning sometimes too) we walk through three greenhouses of melons and watermelons checking to see which ones are ripe. I check to see if the leaf nearest the melon is dead–that’t the first sign. I look at the colour; for most varieties, the melon turns slightly yellow or orange when it’s ready. I look at the place where the stem joins the melon: when the melon is immature, there is a smooth join, but later, a separation appears and a sticky liquid may ooze out. And most of all, I smell them. When a melon is ready, it smells beautiful.
For watermelons, the procedure is a little simpler. We also look for the tendril and leaf nearest the watermelon to turn brown, but with watermelons the change in smell and colour don’t occur. If I’m not sure, I tap the watermelon. From its earliest stages, the pitch of the sound you hear on tapping the watermelon gradually rises, and then goes flat and dull again when the watermelon is ready. That is, most of the time it does that. The real indicator is the tendril, brown down to where it joins the main stem.
At the market, customers sometimes ask which melon is ready to eat today. I tell them, they all are. The melons you buy in the store have usually been harvested well in advance of being ripe, so you may need to wait awhile to let them ripen after buying them. But when we harvest them as I’ve just described, it is nearly always the case that the melon will be great to eat right away.
Besides harvesting, I’ve also been responsible for watering and pollinating the melons. Melons don’t actually need that much water, and we’ve actually stopped watering them altogether at this point. After transplanting, I gave them plenty of water to get them established and see them through the setting of their fruits, but now that they’re established they can explore for water as needed on their own, particularly as our soil here is good at holding moisture.
I tried my hand at pollinating melons at the beginning of their growing season, since I was worried that not enough bees were finding their way into the greenhouse. It wasn’t as hard as I expected; the male and female flowers look the same at first, but the females have a little bulge that will later become the melon. You just pick a few male flowers, take off the petals, and brush the stamens over the female flower to transfer the pollen. But when you have more than a few melon plants, this takes alot of time–time that could profitably be spent doing something else. I was very happy when I saw bees visiting the melon flowers, and left them to take care of that job with their characteristic diligence.
A word about bees. Across Canada, and elsewhere as well, bees have been experiencing a startling population decline. We really can’t affod to see that happen. I’m glad I could learn the ways of the melons well enough to pollinate them myself, but I don’t think anyone wants to pay the price for food when we don’t have bees doing that kind of work for us.