Mary’s 8-year-old son James won’t take watermelon to YMCA camp. Already Mary’s been loading his lunchbox with lots of ‘sweet melons’ (as Farmer John calls all the cantaloupe-type melons) yet that hasn’t been an issue. Like his mother and all the rest of us here at the farm, James loves melons. But because the icebox watermelons we grow have seeds, James has turned them down. It’s “not cool” to spit seeds at YMCA camp, you see…and we sure don’t want to ruin James’s cool factor.

Fortunately, James goes for wild abandon while at home and has no problem eating and spitting with the best of ‘em. Fortunately, too, this year’s crop of melons, no matter which variety, is exceptional. We sample (and spit) every single day, and we’ve run across nary a sub-par melon in the bunch. Even the malformed melons – the ones we affectionately call “monkey butts” – have been scrumptious.

John is the official melon harvester here. Not only does he enjoy the task (though “enjoy” is kind of a strong word once the mercury hits 100) but after years of practice he definitely has it down. While knowing when a sweet melon is ready for harvest doesn’t exactly require a Ph.D,

(this one will be ripe in another day or two, when it turns completely tan) watermelons aren’t quite so in-your-face about it.

People generally think the thunks clue you in. Depending on what you read or who you talk to, a watermelon is supposed to thunk…or tonk, or tank, or tunk, or thump…or some variation on that theme. Well, I’ll tell you what. You go out to a field full of hundreds of watermelons, flick each and every one with your finger and confidently pluck from the vines the ones you believe are ripe based on what they sound like.

We wish you the best of luck.

Here’s how it’s really done:

Every watermelon has a curlie-cued tendril at the point where its stem attaches to the plant. That tendril remains alive all the while the watermelon is growing, forming seeds and working on becoming ripe. When the tendril dies

the melon is ready for picking. Another sign of ripeness is when the melon gets a good, solid yellow spot on its underneath side.

Still, the spot isn’t something you can completely count on. If the melon is attached a little whopperjawed to the vine and not resting firmly on the ground, it might have only a hint of paleness. And if the harvester leaves it on the vine too long with a dead tendril waiting for it to form a pretty yellow bottom, the watermelon is going to become overripe and mushy.

Speaking of bottoms,

Farmer John traverses the watermelon patch every two days, on the lookout for dead tendrils. As he locates ripe melons he lays them in piles around the perimeter of the melon patch until all of that day’s harvest is finished, when he finally wheelbarrows them to the air-conditioned room attached to our walk-in cooler.

This seems like kind of privileged information, doesn’t it? As if I’m breaking some sort of professional confidence, giving out secrets of the trade. Thing is, I know for a fact that John wouldn’t mind. All anyone ever needs to do is ask, and he’s more than happy to share what he’s spent years painstakingly working out himself.

It’s an attribute as sweet as the little watermelon he’s holding in his hand. Probably it’s not the coolest way to be – John is nothing if not a farming nerd – but he’d never claim to be the cool guy on the block, not now or at any point during his lifetime.

Heck, when he was a kid, he probably even spit at the YMCA.

* * *

For Wednesday’s farm stand, we’ll have:

LOADS of icebox watermelons, along with the ‘sweet melon’ varieties Sharyln and personal-sized Tasty Bites; summer squash – Zephyr, zucchini & some Cousa; sweet red Corno di Toro peppers; red bell peppers and Cubanelles; tomatoes (as many as we can find ready for harvest…there won’t be oodles this week); some cherry tomatoes; four varieties of eggplant – purple eggplant, heirloom Rosa Bianca, creamy and delicious Beatrice, and white Japanese eggplant; super sweet Yellow Granex onions; elephant garlic; some arugula; and a bit of this and that.

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)