Tuesday, December 6, 2022
HomeGardening GuideCucamelons: The Cutest Exotic Mini Vegetables You’d Want to Grow in Your...

Cucamelons: The Cutest Exotic Mini Vegetables You’d Want to Grow in Your Garden

Imagine a watermelon but in the size of a grape. That is the cucamelon. Called by so many names, melothria scabra, also known as sandiita or pepquiño, (“little watermelon” in Spanish), is called mouse melon, Mexican sour gherkin, and cucamelon. But the latter option does sound the most fitting for this tiny vegetable, since the two-syllable word “cuca” is as adorable as what it refers to.

What is Cucamelon?

Cucamelon is an oblong-shaped vegetable that looks like a miniature watermelon and tastes like cucumber but only sourer. Its striped crisp peel conceals a crunchy texture and a fresh white flesh that tastes like cucumber with a squeeze of lime.

It also shares the same growing habit as the cucumber, coming from a climbing plant, as well as most of its culinary uses; it can be chopped raw, sautéed, and brined whole.

These little vegetables are available mostly in grocery stores, but with some luck, you might find them at a farmer’s market. But why buy them when you can grow them yourself?

Cucamelon can be easily grown from seed in your backyard garden, and can be a lovely addition to your crop.

More about Cucamelons

Although cucamelons do belong at a certain level to the Cucurbitaceae family, they aren’t really melons or cucumbers. They only share some of their characteristics. 

These fun veggies are all about warmth and sunshine, which is why they thrive in South America, their native land. The cucamelon plant is almost identical to that of the cucumber, but with smaller leaves. It has a tuberous root system adapted to absorb and store moisture, allowing it to resist drought and hard conditions. As for its flowers, they are small, bright yellow, and have 5 petals each. 

Cucamelon Growing Conditions 

Soil

Cucamelons can be planted in sandy, chalky, loamy soil types, as long as they drain well. Unlike cucumber and melon plants, it has extensive roots that dig deep into the soil.

Watering

Cucamelon grows vigorously in dry conditions and has very little irrigation needs. In fact, it only needs 16 milliliters of water per week when the weather is extremely hot. But in milder temperatures, it is recommended to not water the plant unless the topsoil is dry. Beware: overwatering cucamelon can actually suffocate it!

Light Requirements

Cucamelon would be in its best shape if exposed to at least six hours of full sun each day.

Hardiness

Cucamelon can be grown as a perennial vegetable, but it is mainly hardy in zones 9 to 11. It is considered as an annual in cooler climates.

Fertilizer

Cucamelon is best planted in a mixture of soil and compost, and then fertilized regularly with compost tea during its growth.

Plant Supports

Cucamelon’s vines should be supported with a cage or a trellis, as they can extend to 3 meters or more in each season. This will help you see and harvest the vegetable easier and avoid the sprawling of vines.

How to Grow Cucamelon from Seed?

Cucamelon seeds can be sown directly into the garden soil if the temperatures are steadily above 21°C (70°F); that is in zones 7 through 10.

But in a cooler climate, start growing cucamelon seeds indoors around 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. To do so, you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Plant two seeds per pot of soil, about 1 centimeter deep.
  2. Place the pots in a warm spot where the temperature is more than 21°C (70°F).
  3. Make sure the soil is moist consistently.
  4. After a period of 10 to 14 days, your seedlings should be sprouting from the soil. If not, throw away.
  5. Relocate seedlings to one plant in each pot.
  6. When the seedlings are about 5 centimeters tall, transplant them into your garden.
  7. Plant the seedlings and make sure they are 22 to 30 centimeters apart.

Cucamelon Harvesting

You can harvest the cucamelon fruits by handpicking them off the plant. When cucamelon plants become sturdy, they start to grow thoroughly and produce a good quantity of vegetables from mid-summer to the first frost.

Still green and tender fruits are the best to eat raw. Typically no larger than 2 centimeters in diameter, they have the best taste. 

As for the more mature ones, they are usually bitterer, less crunchy, and have a lot of seeds. These ones are best kept for brining.

Cucamelon Storage and Preservation  

Fresh cucamelons, once separated from the plant, will last in the fridge for about a week. To store them properly, they should be placed in a paper bag, with the top open for air 

If you want them to last for more than one week, cucamelons can be preserved with pickling and canning, same as cucumbers. This will keep them for a month or more if pickled and up to a whole year if water bath canned. 

Cucamelons can also be canned in the normal way if integrated in a dish, and they are the perfect vegetable to experiment with. For instance they can be marinated and paired with Ponzu, chopped in salsa along tomatoes, turned into jam, used to make Kimchi or Bruschetta topping. The possibilities are endless.

Where to Buy Cucamelon Seeds?

Cucamelon is not as common as cucumbers, carrots, or beans. In fact, it is a quite rare plant and it is not easy to access its seeds in a nursery or a garden center for example. That is why you should consider saving them instead.

Cucamelon Seed Saving

  • Ripened cucamelon vegetables that naturally fell off the plant are ideal for seed saving. 
  • Start by collecting them indoors, and letting them ripen for some time. 
  • After a couple of weeks, when they are over ripened, slice each vegetable in half, and extract the seeds. 
  • Place the seeds in a container full of water and let them ferment for one week.
  • Take out the seeds that have dropped to the bottom of the container, and then rinse them. 
  • Place the rinsed seeds on a paper towel or a fine mesh screen and let dry for a couple weeks in a cool, well-ventilated area.
  • Once the seeds are completely dry, put them to an airtight jar and sow them in the span of a couple of years.

More articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Posts