Cucamelon: How to Grow Cucamelon
Cucamelons are showing up in many groceries today – but are they actually melons? While they may look like grape-size versions of watermelons, these babies taste nothing like them! Pop them in your mouth and you’ll get a cucumber and lime taste, which opens up the doors for lots of possible cooking methods.
As someone who has them growing in my garden, I can tell you that there are tons of possible ways they can be prepared for a healthy snack or even a meal. They’re also wonderfully easy to cultivate as you’ll soon find out.
Cucamelons also go by the name of “mouse melons” or “Mexican sour jerkins”. They’re often seen as a novelty in farmer markets but they’re actually very easy to grow. In fact, they’re quite common in both Central America and Mexico even before colonization.
Hence, don’t be surprised if you hear tons of name for this particular fruit such as pepquinos or little cucumbers, Mexican sour gherkin, Mexican sour cucumber, Mexican miniature watermelon, and sandiita or little watermelons.
Does this mean that they’re a cross between a watermelon and a cucumber? Well, no. While the fruit belongs in the same family as cucumbers, they’re completely individual. You see, the cucumber plant and the watermelon plant can actually cross-pollinate. If they do however – you’re not getting a cucamelon since the cucamelon is something entirely different. Their scientific name is actually melothria scabra.
Facts About Cucamelon
As mentioned, cucamelons have been in Central America even before colonization – making them native to the US. While it’s tough to trace the actual people who brought this plant to the United States, it’s safe to say that until now – the cucamelon is considered a novelty item.
For this reason, you might have a hard time finding seeds for sowing of this plant as they’re not normally carried in stores. Seed catalogs would be your best bet for buying sowing seeds.
Cucamelons are vines that need direct sun exposure in order to grow healthy and strong with tons of fruit. This makes them perfect for warm weather countries. If you live from Zone 1 to Zone 7, then you’re in the perfect spot to grow these babies all year round.
Now, let’s say you don’t live in an area where the weather gets cold. If you reside somewhere warm, then getting the right temperature should not be a problem. You can directly sow the seeds on the ground and allow them to grow where they stand. Remember though that the temperature outside should still hit the required mark for the seed to germinate. If you live at Zones 7 to 10, then the cucamelon can be a perennial plant in your garden.
The plant can grow up to 10 feet if given proper climbing space so make sure to build a trellis for them. Obviously, you cannot construct a trellis that’s 10 feet tall as this would make picking the fruits harder. However, try to go as high as 6 or 7 feet to give this plant room to really stretch out its vines.
The cucamelon leaves are small – just a tad bigger than the fruit itself. You want it to be solid green to indicate that the plant is healthy. If some of the leaves are turning yellow or brown, then this could be a sign of a watering problem, so make sure to check the ground.
In most cases, the problem with cucamelon is that they’re overwatered – especially if you’re growing them in a pot. These plants require little water – just around an inch per week so don’t overdo it. The leaves will be your best indicator of the plant’s health, so always look into it.
Fruit Color, Shape and Size
The fruits look a lot like watermelons – but in the same size as a grape. To be more specific, they’re light green with lined markings along the sides. These fruits do not change drastically in color. The shade and markings of a budding fruit is practically the same as that of a mature one that’s ready for picking.
Ripeness therefore is judged based on size, which should be at least one inch in length. Do not let it grow too big because this will affect the flavor.
The fruit skin is a lot like that of a cucumber in that it is thin and not really good for peeling. While it can be done, the skin itself is edible so there’s really no problem there. If you cut the cucamelon crosswise, you’d immediately notice that the skin extends just a few millimeters with practically 90 percent of the fruit being the actual flesh.
How to Grow Cucamelon
These plants like soil that’s loose and with good drainage. Make sure to buy garden soil when you’re just starting a crop. During the winter season, placing mulch on the soil where the tubers are located will help preserve it so that it can still grow for the next warm season.
These plants need direct sunlight in order to grow into their best potential. A trellis will help make sure that they get full exposure during the summer days. Place them in parts of your garden where the sun hits the most.
So how much water should you feed these plants? An inch of water every week is really all you need. A good way to test moisture is by using your hands. Just push your finger an inch or so into the soil close to the roots. If the soil is damp, there’s still enough water there and you don’t have to water the cucamelon again. If it comes out dry, it’s time to give a generous heap of water.
Temperature and Humidity
Remember that they’re native to Mexico so you’d want temperature to be similar to that condition. This means that the temperature should be around 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the soil at its minimum. Anything less than that will not encourage the plant and seeds to germinate. Humidity should also be fairly high, which is common for territories falling under Zones 1 to 7.
Again, the cucamelon doesn’t need fertilizer when planted on good soil. They’re light feeders and fairly low maintenance when it comes to water.
One thing you have to watch out for with cucamelons, however is with pollination. These plants produce two kinds of flowers – male and female. The way this works is that bees or other insects move from flower to flower and drag pollens along with them, causing fertilization. Unfortunately, not many bees exist anymore and if this is your only crop, you might have a hard time producing those fruits.
Hence, it’s often a good idea to plant multiple crops with flowers that attract the bees into your garden. If you’re growing them indoors, you might want to manually stimulate fertilization yourself to guarantee fruit growth.
How do you pollinate? It’s important to first identify which flowers are male and which are female. The female ones have a small little fruit at its base while the male one is supported on a long stalk. Using a Q tip, brush a little bit of the male flower and then transfer it to the female – NOT vice versa. The female flower would be the one maturing into a fruit.
But let’s say you have poor soil in your garden and want to stimulate the growth of your cucamelons? The best way is to start with garden soil in the first place – this will give you all the nutrients you need. You can also use fertilizers but steer clear of high-nitrogen ones as this will produce few fruits. When the flowers start to show up, you can feed the plant with fish emulsion once a week.
Pruning cucamelons isn’t always necessary. The primary maintenance for these plants – aside from the obvious sun and water – would be guiding the vines through the trellis. Everything you see a little stray vine, carefully insert it along the trellis so that it has ample support.
Also look for dying leaves which can happen if the vine grows thick. The leaves tend to pile up on themselves so that those underneath are blocked from the sun. If this happens, simply take out the yellowing leaves so that the plant doesn’t waste energy on it.
Cucamelon Growing Tips
They prefer the hot weather. Climates in relation to gardening are often designated per zone. Hence, just make sure to check your city’s Zone. If you live from Zone 1 to Zone 7, then this would be the perfect plant to have in your garden. If not however, you can still grow cucamelons although with added precautions during the winter months.
Sowing needs to be perfectly timed so that you can transplant them outside during the right weather. This plant isn’t cold-friendly so sowing should be done 4 weeks to a month before the last frost. This way, you can cultivate the seedlings in perfect temperature by controlling all the aspects of the environment indoors or in your greenhouse.
Grab your starter pots and fill them with gardening soil. The seeds are pretty small, so use a slightly wet toothpick to pick them off and bury them about ¼ inch deep into the soil. Try to put in two to three seeds in there to increase the chances of one growing.
Germination period takes around 7 to 14 days so watch out. The speed of the seed sprouting really depends on the temperature with 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit being the optimal levels. If you have some seedling heat mat available, you can use it to improve the success rate of the seedling growth.
Transplanting of these plants is best done after the last frost. If you time your sowing perfectly, then the cucamelon seedling should be around 4 weeks old by this time. Remember when we said you should put in two or three seedlings in one starter pot? If you did everything right – there should be three seedlings in that one pot. Pick your favorite and remove the others as they will only fight for resources once transplanted.
Cucamelons are not very good in the cold so you want to make sure they are welcomed outdoors by the sun. Don’t transplant them immediately though! Start by bringing out the seedlings first and finding a sunny spot for them to get used to the sun and air.
Doing this will give them the best chance of survival as it improves the health of the roots. After two or three days, you can now transplant them on the final spot you want the seedlings to grow. Make sure you use garden soil with excellent drainage.
Remember that the cucamelon is a vine so you’d want to plan for that eventuality with the construction of a tall trellis. When transplanting, make sure there’s at least 12 inches of space between the seedlings. This will give each of them space to spread.
Growing on a Trellis
Cucamelon vines can grow up to 10 feet tall if you give them enough water, sunshine, and growing space. Since they grow best straight onto the soil, these plants are pretty low maintenance once transplanted. No need to offer them supplemental fertilizer as they are light to medium feeders. Of course, if your soil is really bad, then the fertilizer might be a welcome addition. Note though that these plants do NOT like overly wet soil so don’t overwater them.
Garden soil with good drainage is best as it allows the plant to properly store energy inside the tubers found under the ground. If your garden soil retains too much water, considering adding some perlite into the mixture.
Again, these are perennials which is what we call plants that are enduring or recurring. Hence, cucamelons planted straight on the ground may wither off during the cold climate. When the weather is hot again however, the little tubes underground will spring back up and you’ll have a fresh cucamelon plant without the effort.
Growing in a Container
If you have a small space to work with, it’s also possible to grow cucamelons in a container. This is also a good idea if the weather is cold most of the time and you want to grow this fruit in a more controlled climate.
The container size doesn’t have to be incredibly large – but keep in mind that there should be a trellis there for climbing. There are different ways you can incorporate a trellis into the pot, making sure that there’s enough climbing space there for the cucamelon.
Ideally, the pot should be at least 5 gallons in size for the cucamelon to grow. Note that one pot should contain one plant and not more, otherwise they’re going to fight for space and nutrients.
What’s interesting about container gardening is that it lets you “store” the cucamelon during the colder season. Underground, the cucamelon stores its energy in bulbs so if the plant itself dies out during the colder season, the bulb stays warm and essentially in “hibernation” mode. Hence, if you bring in the cucamelon pots and keep them stored during the colder season, bringing them back alive is just a simple matter of taking the pots out during the warmer weather.
Cucamelons are surprisingly hardy. They don’t fall prey to common pests such as fruit flies or burrowing worms. If you must make sure they’re protected though, simply spraying the plant with a cayenne pepper mix would drive out any prospective pest.
This will make sure that the pesticide is perfectly natural and will not affect the health of the fruit itself. There is no need to wrap the cucamelon fruits or put them inside a mesh tent.
The fruits don’t come out all at once because cucamelons operate on open pollination. This means that the pollination process is completely natural – such as when the process happens because of the wind, the insects, or even the touch of human hands. Of course, you can also stimulate this process if you happen to see one or two buds opening up to be fruits.
But when exactly are they ready to start bearing fruits or enter into maturity? Generally, that’s anywhere from 65 to 75 days, provided that there’s enough sun, water, and minerals from the soil.
But when do you harvest? Cucamelons are best picked off the vine when they’re around an inch long. They’re OK for eating by this time and the tangy taste is still minimal. As the fruit grows bigger, they become sourer so you’d want to take those young – unless “sour” is what you really want it to taste.
No need for special tools when picking them off the stem. They come out very easily – just like when you’re harvesting cucumbers. They’re quite hardy and will not bruise like a tomato. Once harvested, you can store them and they will last for a fairly long time when stored in room temperature. They’re best eaten when they still have that crunch to them so try not to let them soften up.
Cucamelon Health Benefits
Cucamelons are packed with healthy nutrients including vitamin K, C, and E. It’s also rich in fiber so if you have some constipation issues, popping this in should help with your toilet sessions. Like tomatoes, this fruit is packed with lycopene, which is known for improving heart health. If you don’t like carrots, these are also good alternatives as they contain carotene for your eyes and skin.
Uses of Cucamelon
Cucamelons are like grapes – you can pick them right off the vine and pop them in your mouth for that satisfying crunch of cucumber and lime. They are best used as part of a salad – and you don’t have to cut them up because they’re grape-size! You can also pickle them if you harvested too many from your plants.
Thanks to their lime-taste, cucamelons are also good additions to cocktails for a tangy twist to classic favorites. Simply put – cucamelons can be used in exactly the same way as you would use cucumbers. So yes – they can actually form part of your daily green shake to help with weight loss and better digestive health. Just make sure to cut them up before putting them in your blender for a smoother mix.
To wrap it up – cucamelons are delicious and hardy enough to earn their keep in your garden. They’re a good alternative for cucumbers and should be an excellent conversation starter in any group. They’re very easy to grow so that once you get the vine started, all it takes is a few minutes each day to make sure they’re happy and healthy.
If you live in Zones 1 to 7, then cucamelons are MUST in your garden and would take practically zero work. If you live in other Zones though, the cucamelon might require a bit more investment on your part, but the fact that they’re perennials means you’ll have it easier after that first successful planting!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you eat Cucamelons?
Cucamelons can be eaten straight off the vine although of course, you might want to wash that first. It can also be prepared in all the ways you would prepare cucumber. Pierce it with a toothpick and it also makes a great addition for cocktails.
Are Cucamelons a GMO?
Despite the fact that they look like a hybrid of two popular fruits – the cucamelon is not GMO or genetically modified. In fact, they’re being used in Mexican culture for centuries and come exactly as they are known today.
Hence, if you’re wary of buying these fruits because you think they’re GMO – don’t be! They’re perfectly healthy and has been around far longer than most fruit staples today!
What do Cucamelons taste like?
Cucamelons taste primarily like cucumber with a little hint of lime. If you cut it up halfway, you’ll find that the inside is exactly that of a cucumber so don’t expect the center to be red like a watermelon!