As the growing season begins to wind down for some crops you might find yourself scratching your head when it comes time to harvest your winter squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes and watermelons.
If you are lucky enough that your plants still have vibrant green foliage – count your garden blessings. Powdery mildew swept through our Piatt County Extension Office demonstration a few weeks ago. Last week, I got a concerned email from one of our community project coordinators that something was wrong with their pumpkin plants – again powdery mildew. It seems like if it's not the mildew, it's the squash vine borers! All that to say, you and your plants are not alone.
So weather your leaves are green or graying you have watched the fruits of these plants develop over the last couple months; you don't want all of the anticipation to go to waste by harvesting your crop too early! Please don't suffer the disappointment of splitting open your huge watermelon only to find that the flesh is white as a melon rind.
Tips for harvesting pumpkins & winter squash:
- Skin should be a dark & solid color – typically orange
- The skin should be hard – you should not be able to scratch it easily with your thumbnail. In the photo above you can see how a nail mark was easily left in the very small pumpkin. (Due to the premature death of the vine.)
- Using a knife or pruners, cut pumpkins from the vine – leaving 3-4" of the stem attached. Breaking the stem entirely off at harvest will decrease the shelf life.
Tips for harvesting cantaloupe:
- The tendril closest to the melon to be harvested should be brown. Follow the stem up to the first leaf and there you will find the tendril or curly-cue if you want to be extra technical. (Photo above.)
- Where the stem attaches to the melon- it will be slightly raised if you run your finger over that circular area.
- The fruit should easily come off the vine.
- Cantaloupes will continue to ripen after harvest.
Tips for harvesting watermelon:
- Again the tendril closest to the melon should be brown.
- The leaf closest to the same tendril should be partially browning or senescence before harvesting.
- Watermelons will not get sweeter after harvest.
Enjoy the harvest!