Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to grow cucamelons

Every year I try to grow something in my garden that we have never had before. It gives us a chance to try something new that we normally wouldn't have access to. There are so many cool fruits and vegetables out there, that I just have to try as many as possible! Last year I decided to grow Cucamelons (Melothria scabra).

Melothria scabra is a vine with Ivy-like leaves and grape sized fruit that looks like mini watermelons but taste kind of like a cucumber. Cucamelons are also known as mouse melon and Mexican Sour Gherkin. They're common name in Spanish is “sandiita” (little watermelon). They're are really easy to grow and they produce fruit for months!

how to grow cucamelons

Cucamelons originally come from Central America. They are fast growing once established and require very little care. Even though cucamelons are pretty common in the southwest, they are still fairly rare up north. While cucamelons may look like some kind of fancy new hybrid, they are not. They are non GMO and have a long history of use. 

When growing less common plants you'll need to start from seed as your local plant nursery will probably not have cucamelons. You probably won't be able to find seeds in stores either, but there are several sources online. I ordered these seeds online since I couldn't find them in stores. They were not expensive and I had a high germination rate.

I like to start these indoors (as with all my seeds) and when ready, I transplant the seedling plants out into the garden. It seems to take forever for them to gain any traction but once they get about a foot tall, they just take off growing like crazy! The vines could get out of control though because they do grow very quickly, but they produce a ton of fruit so who can really complain? Cucamelons also grow well in containers, as long as they have something to climb on. 

cucamelons

This year I planted six seedlings in a row across about 2 ft of space. I have a fence behind them at an angle for a trellis. This works very well because the cucamelons fruit tends to fall through the holes of the fence so it's easy to harvest from underneath. 

I could have spaced them out more and they still would have filled in the trellis completely! However, I underestimated them yet again and only gave them about 6 feet of climbing space and they quickly ran out of space and started reaching for everything they could!

How to grow cucamelons:

When starting seeds they can take 2 weeks or more to germinate. I find a grow mat under the seeds is absolutely necessary for good germination. I started mine in late April. Transplant into the garden after all chance of frost has passed. Prepare soil with compost before transplanting. Cucamelons like a fast draining soil.

Plant in full sun, spacing seedlings up to a foot apart. Mulch around plants to maintain soil moisture. Provide a trellis for them to grow up. They can get upwards of 6 feet! (mine usually grow up one side of the trellis then down the other) Cucamelons are drought tolerant though they like to be watered often. I planted mine a bit closer then I should have this year and as you can see from this picture, they are growing pretty thickly across that fencing!

grow cucamelons

I give my vines a dose of compost tea about once a month during the growing season. I care for my cucamelons in exactly the same way that I care for my cucumber plants and they respond very well to it. Luckily they are more pest resistant the cucumbers though, it seems that most bugs avoid them. 

Cucamelons are edible at almost any size, but grape sized is ordeal. Fruit becomes harder and seedy after it reaches about 1" in length...but is still edible. Cucamelons are ready when they pull from the vine easily. Because this is such a high volume producer, you'll have to check for more fruit about every other day. The vines will produce fruit from July till your first frost.

Cucamelons are a tender perennial, so in warmer zones they will not die off over winter. They grow tubers and in cooler zones, these can be dug up and stored over winter. Replant in spring after last frost. Or, fruit that drops to the ground can be used to save seeds as these ones are generally very seedy.

To save seeds:

  • Pick up the overripe fruit that has dropped off the vine in it's own.
  • Store in a cool, dry area for a week or two to allow it to ripen even more. 
  • Slice the fruit open and scoop out the seeds. 
  • Put the seeds in a jar of water for a few days. 
  • Once most of the seeds have sunk to the bottom, pour off the debris and bad seeds from the top. 
  • Rinse a few more times them spread out on a fine screen or uncoated paper plates to dry. 
  • Once they are completely dry, label and store in a cool dry place. 

grow cucamelons

How to eat a cucamelon:

Cucamelons can be eaten plain or used in salads and other fresh vegetable dishes like salsa. I use them in pretty much anything I use cucumbers in. Slice in half and dip in ranch dressing (the kids love this!) Substitute cucamelons for the cucumbers in my Almost Famous Cucumber Salad or make this Easy Marinated Cucamelon Salad.

It looks quite fancy to toss one of these in your Gibson's or vodka martinis instead of a cocktail onion, it's even better if they've been pickled first. Speaking of which...they can also be pickled and I'm working on a batch of cucamelon dill pickles right now. I'll let you know how they turn out!

~L

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