Standing behind a table crowded with watermelons, John Lahargou beats on several of the rinds as if they were bongos. After tapping one with a slightly higher-pitched sound — offering less bass than the other melons — he stops, nods and concludes, “That’s on the greener side.”

If you search the Internet for advice on picking the best watermelon, you’ll find plenty of tips, including (but not limited to): sniff it, shake it, squeeze it, lift it, turn it. But Lahargou is drawn to the beat of his melons.

“Every day I’m picking watermelons, and I do it by sound,” says Lahargou (pictured above, demonstrating the technique).

Before each melon is picked, he says, he drums on it — not with a fist or a knuckle, but with the underside of his extended fingers. (Again, think bongo player.)

melon2“You wanna hear what’s inside,” he explains. “The vibration.”

During a recent farmers’ market in Arroyo Grande, multiple people tapped on his watermelons — a regular occurrence at his booth. One amateur melon tapper said the sound of a good melon compares to the sound of tapping a basketball.

That’s probably not a bad approach, Lahargou says later, though he’s not ready to say it’s the end-all technique.

“I’ve opened thousands of these, trying to figure it out,” he says.

While using sound to choose the right melon is not a perfect science, Lahargou is uniquely qualified to judge a melon by its cover.

Lahargou has plenty of watermelons this time of year.

Lahargou has plenty of watermelons this time of year.

“The duller the sound,” he tells one customer, “the riper they are.”

Lahargou’s watermelons are not only ripe — they offer lots of flavor. That’s because he doesn’t irrigate them, he explains.

“I never water ’em,” he says. “All natural.”

At the Arroyo Grande farmers’ market, several passersby take samples. A few stop. One woman, after choosing the watermelon of her liking, tucks it under an arm and asks, “What if it’s not good?”

“I dunno,” Lahargou says, unshaken by the challenge. Then, with a dry sense of humor, he adds: “Throw it at your neighbor’s house.”



Find Lahargou’s watermelons at the farmers’ markets in Arryo Grande (Wednesdays, 8:30-11 a.m., Smart & Final lot), Morro Bay (Thursdays, 2:30-5 p.m., Spencer’s Fresh Market lot) and San Luis Obispo (Saturdays, 8-10:45 a.m., World Market lot).