How to Tell When Your Berries, Tomatoes and Melons Are Ripe

Renee Valdes
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 Strawberries

As any gardener knows, waiting for the right moment to pick your strawberries, tomatoes and other edibles can be a frustrating wait. So how do you know when your container fruit is ripe for picking?

If you’re like most gardeners, you’ll inspect your plants every day. You can also watch for obvious signs, including color, smell and other clues.

Because strawberries are typically the first fruits of the season to ripen, you’ll want to harvest them as soon as you see they’re red and plump with little visible green except for the leaf cap. Most healthy strawberries will net fruit as early as February if you’re in Florida, and June if you live in northern zones.

Everbearing varieties, such as Eversweet, bring blooms throughout summer and though the berries grow smaller, they’re just as delicious. For more tips, visit our Community.

For best results, don’t rinse or cut your freshly picked strawberries until ready to serve. Store unwashed strawberries for up to five days in the refrigerator. Got too many berries? Wash, pat them dry, and then cut out the hulls and store in the freezer for several months.

Cherry Yellow Tomatoes

With the right organic fertilizer and tapping of the vine to encourage pollination, your tomatoes in a container will begin producing in about 60 to 85 days from the time you plant your seedlings.

Indeterminate varieties, or vining tomatoes such as Big Boy and Yellow Pear, usually provide up until the first frost if you pluck the suckers off your tomato plant to keep it healthy. These varieties need to be staked, caged or put by a trellis to climb so you’ll need a larger container.

Determinate varieties such as Celebrity and Roma are space savers because they need little space and pruning. These typically ripen all at once.

If you plant cherry tomatoes, be sure to pick them sooner rather than later. Cherry tomatoes crack when they’re past their prime on the vine. Also, if you’re facing several days where the mercury soars past 85 degrees, it’s best to harvest the tomatoes just before the tomatoes are completely ready. In this case, you can always put the tomatoes in a paper bag to speed up the cycle.

Of course, tomatoes taste the best right off the vine but you can store them at room temperature for several days until ready to eat. If you find yourself with too many, check out these ideas on preserving tomatoes.

tips for picking fruit:

  1. Look for changing skin colors and textures.
  2. Pick ripe fruit early before the heat of the day.
  3. Use pruning shears to harvest melons and tomatoes to avoid harming plants.
  4. Inspect plants and discard pest-invaded fruits to keep plants healthy.
  5. Harvest with garden baskets to prevent bruising.

Cantaloupe

Growing watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew or other melons in smaller spaces requires larger containers and plenty of water. Smaller melon varieties work well, including Sugar Baby watermelons. Melon growing also works well in vertical gardens.

If you’ve ever seen someone at the grocery store patting a melon, they’re actually listening for the dull, hollow sound when ripe and dripping delicious. In your container garden, you can look for other clues.

How to tell WHEN your melons are ripe:

  • You can smell when melons have reached their peak on the vine. Put simply, the fruit should smell like fresh, sweet melon.
  • For honeydews, wait until the skin changes from hairy to a waxy smooth.
  • Cantaloupes can be judged by color, turning from a grayish green to more yellow. Their netting pattern also becomes more pronounced as they ripen.
  • With watermelons, look for a curly and dry tendril and small spoon leaf. It looks different than the bigger leaves and when a watermelon is ripe, the spoon leaf will be brown. For other watermelon tips, consult our Community.

Melon Salad with Mint

Mixed Melon Salad with Mint

Try this easy melon ball salad with mint. It’s a crowd pleaser at the dinner table and for entertaining.

Serves four

Ingredients:

  • Half of a large cantaloupe 
  • Half of a large honeydew melon
  • Half of a seedless watermelon
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • Fresh mint or basil

Directions:

  1. Remove seeds of cantaloupe and honeydew melon
  2. Scoop flesh of honeydew and watermelon and cantaloupe using a melon baller, reserving both halves of cantaloupe
  3. Fill cantaloupe “bowl” with a variety of melon balls
  4. Drizzle with honey
  5. Top with mint or basil

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