Adorable. It’s the first word that comes to mind when discovering Cucamelons. Adorable with a capital “A.” No wonder it’s also known as Mouse Melon. Yet another more common name, Mexican Sour Gherkin, adds a tinge of mystery to the mix. Adorable, sweet, sour and it’s a cucumber that looks like a miniature watermelon?
I know what you’re thinking. You have to grow this plant.
So what are you waiting for? What makes it even more fascinating is that it’s an open pollenated heirloom from Central America and not a true cucumber. Cucamelon, Melothria scabra, is in the same family as a cucumber and has a similar habit but you’ll quickly discover that it’s unique, less particular and easier to grow.
In warmer climates (USDA hardiness zones 9 or warmer), direct sow Cucamelon seeds in your garden once soil temperatures rise in April to May. Treat them as you would cucumber seeds, planting them in groups or circles of 4 to 6 about 1 inch apart with groups about 12 to 15 inches apart. Thin them once established using scissors, selecting the healthiest of the bunch.
In cooler climates or to simply play it safe sow seeds indoors with other summer crops in late February to April. Start them individually in paper pots and manage soil temperatures, keeping them warm to optimize germination. Plant out after the last frost. *Note: using paper pots allows you to plant them directly into the garden, paper pot and all, so the roots are intact and undisturbed.
Cucamelons are tender perennials which means, if you live in a warm climate they may continue to grow year after year from the same root stock. You can test this by insulating the area with mulch after the growing season. I’ve even heard that some gardeners remove the roots stock, placing it in a controlled environment and planting it back out in spring.
- Prepare soil with compost and organic, aged manure or a balanced fertilizer before planting.
- Apply mulch to soil surface to suppress weeds and maintain soil moisture.
- Cucamelons are vigorous climbers. Give them a strong, tall trellis or A-frame to scramble over. They like to reach in all directions and can extend to great lengths so start out with something that is bigger than you think you’ll need. Consider one like this Deluxe Cucumber Trellis or this Twine Vegetable Trellis.
- Great for containers and small spaces, where there’s room for plants to grow up.
- Drought tolerant.
- Can take up to 4 weeks to germinate. I’ve also found the vine is initially slow growing but vigorous once established.
- Plant in full sun, provide protection from wind and water well until established.
- Prolific producer. Look for fruit on a regular basis under and between leaves.
- Harvest and eat at almost any size but they become seedy and firm with age, when they’re over an inch long or more. You can tell if they’re tender by squeezing them.
- Great in salads when tender and fabulous pickled. Save the firmer ones for pickling.
- Collect seed from fruit that have matured on the vine and fallen to the ground.
- A tender perennial.