How to grow cucamelons
If you’re looking to try something new in your vegetable garden this season, perhaps the tiny but mighty cucamelon would be a good fit.
Cucamelons ( Melothria scabra) are also called Mexican sour gherkins or mouse melons. They’re closely related to cucumbers and other cucurbits. They’ve been grown as a food crop in their native Mexico and Central America for many generations, but here in the U.S., we gardeners are a little late to the party.
Cucamelon plants are slender vines that climb up to six feet in height. They’re prolific and multibranching, though they’re slow to take off in the spring.
A warm-season crop, cucamelons shouldn’t be planted out into the garden until after the danger of frost has passed. You can grow the vines by planting a few of the tiny seeds directly into the garden, or you can start the seeds indoors, under grow lights, a few weeks before planting the young vines outdoors.
Several weeks later, the vines begin to produce flowers and fruits. You’ll be surprised at how many little cucamelon fruits are produced on each vine. For most families, one or two vines are more than enough. Each little fruit is only an inch long, but they look like miniature watermelons and pack a unique flavor.
They taste much like a citrusy cucumber, and cucamelons can be eaten fresh, pickled or used in any number of recipes you can find online. At my house, I slice them and use them in a carrot salad with a sesame dressing, among other recipes.
Like other members of the cucumber family, cucamelon vines produce separate male and female flowers on each plant, which means that not every flower will produce a fruit. Still, there are plenty of fruits produced on each plant.
It’s fun to watch some of our little, iridescent native bees pollinate the blooms. The flowers are extremely tiny; a perfect fit for smaller bee species.
If you grow cucamelons this season, be sure to provide them with a sturdy structure to climb. A fence or trellis covered in chicken wire works great. Leaving the vines to sprawl on the ground gobbles up a lot of valuable garden space. Plus, having the vines trellised means you won’t have to bend over to harvest the small fruits.
If you miss one or two cucamelons at harvest time, they’ll fall to the ground and the seeds will sprout the following spring, essentially making them a self-sowing vegetable crop. But be careful that you don’t leave too many fruits behind or they will easily reseed a bit too prolifically.
These grape-size fruits are crunchy and refreshing, and well worth a try in your garden. Cucamelon seeds are carried by several seed companies, including Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) and Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com).
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.