It’s cute. It’s crisp. It’s slightly pungent. It’s the perfect, bite-size snack on a hot, muggy day. What could this garden snack-bite be? If you guessed cucamelon, you’re right!
Affectionately referred to as the “world’s smallest watermelon”, the cucamelon is a vine that bears edible mini-melons about the size of grapes. The cucamelon tastes like a cucumber with a burst of citrusy tartness from the skin. Commonly known as dandita or “little watermelon” in Mexico, Melothria scabra was a domesticated crop in Central America before the Americas were colonized by Europeans.
While they look like they’re a cross between a cucumber and melon, the cucamelons are their own unique plant species within the Curcurbitaceae family…and they’re an exceptionally fun crop to grow in your edible garden…so let’s learn how!
Good Products for Growing Cucamelons:
|Common Name(s)||Cucamelon, mouse melon, Mexican sour gherkin, Mexican sour cucumber, pequinos|
|Scientific Name||Melothria scabra|
|Germination Time||10 days|
|Days to Harvest||70-75 days|
|Water:||1″ per week, mulch in hotter climates|
|Soil||Well-draining, rich soil|
|Fertilizer||Light potash mix or tomato fertilizer|
|Pests||Not susceptible to many pests|
|Diseases||Root knot nematodes can affect them|
Also known as mouse melon, Mexican sour gherkin, Mexican sour cucumber, and pequinos, cucamelons are slow-growing when first planted. Once established they can grow up to ten foot long tendrils, climbing all over your garden trellis.
Like cucumbers and some squash, cucamelons produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. Unlike most other cucurbits (like cucumbers and squash), the female flowers appear before male flowers. The five-petal, yellow flowers are produced in the leaf axils and about 4 mm in diameter.
When to Plant
In cooler climates, you’ll want to start your seeds indoors, and then move the seedlings outside when there’s no risk of frost. Plan 70-75 days from seedling to harvest, which means fruit production from mid-summer through first frost. And when I say fruit production…I mean it. These little mouse melons can be quite prolific if given the right ingredients for growth.
Where to Plant
Cucamelons thrive in warm weather and full sun. In colder regions, you may want to grow your cucamelons in containers, so you can move them indoors when evening temperatures drop. You can plant cucamelons, cucumbers, and melons in the same container with a trellis allowing each plant’s vines to flourish upwards. All of these veggies have similar nutrient and growth requirements, you just may need to feed them a bit more if companion planting.
How to Plant
Start the seeds indoors, blunt edge down at a depth of 1/2″ (1cm) in compost-rich soil. Plan to allow up to 10 days for the seeds to germinate. Once germinated, allow the seedlings to grow lying on their sides. Once the roots and seedling are established, the plants are ready to transfer outdoors or potted in your green house. Plant seedlings at a depth of 3.5″ (9cm).
The cucamelon grows in thin, trailing vines. You can grow the vines on a vertical support, or you can grow them in a 6-8″ pot and let the vines cascade out as runners. Either way, the vines will flourish and produce fruit.
Roughly 1inch of water per week during the growing season. In extremely hot dry areas, use a good mulch them to help maintain adequate soil moisture.
Start seedlings in a compost-rich soil. Cucamelons tubers require good drainage or they’ll rot in the ground. Avoid planting cucamelons in overly wet soils. If your soil is overly wet, you may want add perlite or sand to the soil around cucamelons, to ensure good drainage.
Use a fertilizer mix similar to what you’d apply to tomatoes—a light potash mix or liquid tomato fertilizer.
Cucamelons can provide year-after-year fruit with minimal effort. Once the fruiting period is over, lift the cucamelon root ball out of the ground or pot and store the root in barely moist compost in a garage or shed. Plant the root ball after the last frost, and your cucamelon should be bearing new fruit by mid-July.
The cucamelon will continuously bear fruit from July until the first frost. It’s easy to see and pick the fruits hanging down from a trellis. The fruit is ready to pick when they are the size of olives or small grapes and are still firm. If left on the plant too long, the fruit will develop an unpleasant, bitter taste and a soggy texture.
You can let some of the fruit grow to full maturity and harvest the fruit for their seeds. Follow the same process that you’d use to save cucumber seeds. When the fruit has matured enough to be a bit soft, chop them in half, squeeze the seeds out into a jar with a small amount of water.
Let the seeds sit long enough to ferment the gel sacks off. Depending on your temperatures this process can take from 2 to 10 days. Remove the seeds that have dropped to the bottom and air dry for a couple of weeks on a screen in a cool, well-ventilated area. When brittle they can be stored in airtight containers for several years.
Alternatively, just keep the whole fruits in a cool location above freezing, and plant the entire fruit in the ground the next spring.
Be aware that the tender young stems and tendrils are easily damaged by cold or rough handling. Once the weather warms, this plant grows rampantly, quickly covering a small trellis or wire cage. Under ideal conditions the plants can grow up to 10 feet and produce abundant fruit.
Cucamelons are pest-resistant. Healthy cucamelons are able to fend off the pests that afflict cucumbers like Cucumis sativus, such as cucumber moth, white flies, and aphids. Using a trellis to grow the vines vertically helps prevent many pests from snitching the fruit. Growing the vines vertically also helps to prevent slug damage.
Cucamelons are relatively disease resistant and are less likely to contract the diseases that afflict cucumbers such as powdery mildew and downy mildew.
Root knot nematodes have been known to attack the tuberous root zone, so if you have these take action immediately as they’re extremely hard to get rid of once they’ve infested a patch of soil. Oftentimes soil solarization is one of the only ways to truly eradicate them, but you could also try growing mustard in the bed as a bio-fumigant.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How does the cucamelon, Melothria scabra, compare with the creeping cucumber, Melothria pendula, which is native to the United States?
Creeping Cucumber, also known as Guadeloupe Cucumber, shares many features with the Cucamelon—both are slender, climbing vines with small yellow flowers that form small melon-like fruit. The young light green Creeping Cucumber fruits can be eaten raw. Avoid the dark green and black fruit, which have a strong laxative effect.
Q. What are the best ways to serve cucamelons?
A. While many gardeners enjoy snacking on their mouse melons while out in their gardens, these mini-melons as excellent additions to stir-fries.
They can be pickled just like French gherkins, eaten raw in salads or put up like Polish dill pickles. They also can be chopped and added to salsas for extra texture and flavor.
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