Steve Richardson: How to Pick a Melon

Market manager Debbi LaRue admires Steve Richardson's melon crop.

My vegetable garden this summer is having mixed success with some winners (prolific Blue Lake bush beans) and some losers ( bugs ate the cauliflower before it bloomed). So far, the garden’s jewel is this gorgeous heirloom watermelon called "The Moon and Stars" that I grew from seed. It’s growing so fast that I’m already wondering how I’ll know when it’s ripe. So on Saturday at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market, I asked farmer Steve Richardson for some advice.

Richardson is an expert when it comes to melons. He grows 75 acres of vegetables at Richardson Vegetable Farm, and 10 of those acres are planted in a remarkable assortment of melons with lovely names like Sugar Bite, Yellow Crimson, Aphrodite, and Goldstrike. “My wife and I were up until 2 a.m. this morning,” he said, pointing toward a mound of melons. “We filled up five trucks.”

When I asked Richardson to explain how to tell when a watermelon is ripe, he started thumping. “Hear that drum sound?” he asked. “That’s what you want. If you hear a deep ping, it’s not ready.”

He had two other tips if you are picking watermelons in the field:  The melon’s ground spot (that’s where it lays on  the ground) should be creamy yellow, and the melon’s curl (those little tendrils that grow on the vine) should be dead to the stem.

Do the same rules apply to cantaloupe? “No, cantaloupe’s are easier,” Richardson said. “They just need to be yellow behind the netting.” Netting, btw, are the textured web of lines on a cantaloupe’s rind.

Richardson, who sells at most of the local markets in Memphis, Senatobia, and Holly Springs, expects a  healthy crop of melons through the end of September, thanks to successive crop plantings at his farm in Tyro, Mississippi.

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