Farmers need to determine the best harvesting stage for their melons to ensure they’ll have good eating qualities by the time the customer takes them off the shelf.
A melon which fully ripens on a healthy vine will have the best flavour, irrespective of sugar content. A melon with a higher brix level can taste less sweet than one with a lower brix, and sweetness is only part of what makes a melon taste good. However, there is a problem with harvesting at full ripeness as the fruit still has to get to the market and the stores, and may hang around for another few days there.
How long different varieties can stay marketable differs widely. Generally, firmer-fleshed varieties will last longer, but they’re often considered to have a poorer “bite”, the sensation when chewing the flesh. Such varieties may be more suitable for semi-processing fruit salads but I certainly won’t buy them. For example, the Galia melon has an ideal bite, but it doesn’t have a good shelf-life. Eating quality is a combination of ripeness at harvest, texture, sweetness and combinations of flavonoids which are often unique to each variety. These qualities are also affected by growing conditions including climate, the amount and quality of irrigation water and the amount and balance of soil nutrients. Soil organic content and soil type will also play a role.
Experienced farmers know how to fertilise and side-dress their crops to amplify a particular variety’s taste. No-till practices definitely improve both shelf life and eating qualities, while reducing soil-borne diseases and nematodes. Farmers use their experience with each variety to determine the best harvesting stage. In many varieties colour will play a role. Slip-ripening varieties make this easier, and labourers need to be taught how much tension to use when picking the fruit. With honeydews it’s more difficult to tell, but applying pressure to the blossom end of the fruit is a good indication.
It helps to have a uniform flush. Then the farmer can determine ripeness in general from a few sample fruits. Farmers who get quality under control should consider marketing with branding stickers. Developing a name will mean repeat orders and a higher price. – Bill Kerr ((016) 366 0616 or e-mail [email protected]). |fw