In the summer of 2021, I walked to the back of my garden that was covered in bamboo and discovered stout vines that had emerged above the canes. The leaves gave me a hint and made me feel like this plant was a member of the gourd family. After some confusion, I learned it was the Cucamelon plant.
Cucamelon plants have a long history in the Global South, from Venezuela to Mexico. It was first cultivated by indigenous peoples and has relatives around the world. This melon is so easy to grow and attracts virtually no pests. There's no reason why your summer prep shouldn't include cucamelon seeds.
So how do you take care of Cucamelon vines? If you want to incorporate it into your own garden, read on. Follow these instructions and you will have ripe cucamelons in the heat of summer and a huge harvest to grow for many summers to come.
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Quick care instructions
Harvest your cucamelons when they are about the size of an olive or grape. Source: Lorin Nielsen
|Common name(s)||Cucamelon, mexican mini watermelon, mexican cucumber, pickle, mousemelon, pepquinos|
|Scientific name||Melothria scabra|
|days until harvest||60 to 75 days|
|water||1 inch per week|
|floor||Rich, well draining|
|fertilizer||Fish emulsion only in the poorest soils|
|Diseases||Downy mildew, powdery mildew, cucumber mosaic virus|
All about the Cucamelon plant
A cucamelon plant can grow into quite a tangle of vines. Source: UnconventionalEmma
Cucamelon plants (Melothria scabra) are commonly known as mousemelons, Mexican mini watermelons, Mexican pickles, or pepquinos. The common name for this vine is largely determined by the culture in which it is discussed. Because the origins of these plants are indigenous, many of the indigenous words used to describe them translate to "mousemelons" in English.
Cucamelon plants were used as food and medicine by the native peoples of South and Central America before the colonial era. They came to North America through colonization. In 1866 it was scientifically classified by a French botanist. Today there is still controversy surrounding this classification, as cucamelons are very similar to many cucurbits around the world.
The Cucamelon vine is voracious at 8 to 9 feet, and seeds germinate within 10 days of sowing in early spring. The 1 to 3 inch wide leaves resemble a typical domesticated cucumber, with three or five lobes each. They are rough with small hairs covering their surface. The vine produces both male and female flowers that look essentially the same: yellow with five petals. Female flowers receive pollen from male flowers from insects or the wind.
After successful pollination in early summer, the female flowers fall off and in their place are grape-sized fruits that look like tiny watermelons. They mature and mature in 60 to 75 days. As cucamelon matures, bulbous roots form. They remain in the ground to return when conditions in warm areas permit. They are a lovely annual plant in colder regions.
The only edible part of a cucamelon harvest is the tiny fruit. Cucamelons taste like cucumbers with an extra spice. Catch these Mexican pickles while they are light to rich green. When they turn purple, they are no longer edible and become a powerful laxative. If these delightful fruits are too dark for you, they are best used as medicine by native people in their home region.
Start cucamelon seeds 9 to 12 inches apart 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in spring. Cucamelons can be grown indoors in a warm area, or you can grow seeds indoors and transplant them outdoors after the last spring frost. Another good way to grow Mexican mini watermelons is by planting seeds in your garden bed, raised bed, or a container. Give the plants plenty of space and create a trellis. Growing cucamelons vertically will help you save space. Otherwise, the vine will spread and take over. The area you plant in should have well-drained soil and plenty of direct sunlight. If you're growing in containers, provide a large, deep plastic, terracotta, or clay pot. Several gallons is best.
A Cucamelon forming on the vine. Source: Poppet with a camera
The Mexican pickle spreads quickly once established in a garden area. Let's discuss how you can help your plants grow.
sun and temperature
Grow Cucamelon in an area with full sun. Some afternoon shade is acceptable. Cucamelon thrives in warm weather and even hot weather where water is readily available. Planting should be done after the last frost in spring. Cucamelon growing time is much shorter in colder climates. Optimum temperature ranges for these plants are in the 65 to 75 degree Fahrenheit range during the day.
Despite the tendency for these plants to produce more in warmer weather, their USDA hardiness range is broad, from zone 2 to 10. They are hardy in zone 7, where they grow wild. Do not grow this plant before the frost is over as the freezing weather will kill it. In very hot climates, provide some late afternoon partial shade and water thoroughly to prevent slow pollination. Put Frost Cloth in a Quick Freeze.
water and moisture
Give your Cucamelon at least an inch of water per week. Because these plants are susceptible to powdery mildew, always water at the base of the plant so the cucamelon bulbs receive moisture and not the leaves. Drip hoses and drip irrigation ensure the best watering. Cucamelon is drought tolerant, producing beautiful green foliage and tiny flowers even in dry seasons. Lack of water affects fruit size, so water regularly. In the rainy season there is no need to water.
The key to Cucamelon's nutrient content is well-drained soil. They grow on lean, nutrient-poor soil. Supplementing garden beds or containers with some potting soil, or even rich soil supplemented with old manure, will provide enough for underground tubers. The optimal pH level for growing cucamelons is 6.0 to 6.8.
When you grow cucamelons, you don't need to provide fertilizer. Especially if you plant cucamelons in nutrient-rich soil, too much fertilizer will burn the plant. The tubers are sensitive to high nutrient levels and will rot in too much fertilizer.
If you're growing cucamelons, prune them back a bit to prevent them from overtaking your garden. If you notice powdery mildew, remove these tendrils as soon as possible to prevent spreading to the same plant or even multiple nearby plants.
Train the plant on a trellis. Young Cucamelon seedlings should be planted in an area where they can be trained up a trellis. It does not matter whether it is an arch, post or tipi trellis. Growing cucamelons means they will grow a lot and easily. During the growing season, prevent the cucamelons from attaching themselves to other plants, such as B. your tomato plant nearby. Either cut and remove the vine from the plant, or untie the vine from the nearby plant and tie it back to the trellis.
When growing cucamelons, collect cucamelon seeds from your first harvest. Then plant cucamelon seeds the next spring. Inside each of the melons are several tiny seeds, each with the potential to grow into a new plant. When you harvest cucamelons, discard the melons that you will eat from seed cucamelons. Carefully cut each cantaloupe in half and scoop out the seeds. Place them in a jar and cover with water for 1 to 2 days, stirring daily. Then place them all on a paper towel and move them around so they don't stick to the towel. Store fermented seeds in a paper envelope. How to save seeds to grow cucamelons in the coming seasons.
Planting cucamelon seeds is easy, and see the planting section of this article for more information on how to do this. When you grow cucamelons, you may find that your crop yields so many seeds that you don't know what to do with them. Pass them on to friends who want to learn how to grow cucamelons, or alternatively, plant cucamelons in several parts of your garden. Seed storage is the best way to propagate these plants.
Harvesting and Storage
Any cucamelon plant can produce an abundance of fruit. Source: Claire Sutton
We talked about how to grow cucamelons. Now let's talk about how to harvest cucamelons and store them for later use.
Grow cucamelons and harvest them when they are the size of grapes and firm to the touch. If you later pick them while they are still green, they can be slightly bitter and dingy. Don't eat them when they're purple. At this point it's too late to enjoy it. Simply pick the cucamelons with your hands or from the ground. Wash them gently in water and they're ready to go!
At the end of the season, overwinter cucamelon tubers to replant them the following spring when soil temperature permits. Simply cut off the plant at the base and dig up the bulb. Then plant it in a small pot and move it to a place where the temperature will not get too cold. The tuber will produce another plant in spring. For those growing cucamelons in colder regions, overwintering bulbs is a great way to keep the plant going in future seasons.
Before storing seeds, sort out the cucamelons that you intend to eat. Fresh cucamelons should be eaten within a few days and should be stored in a paper bag in the crisper of your refrigerator. Grow cucamelons to make olive-sized cucumbers too! These will keep in an airtight jar for six months. Unfortunately, this is the only long-term storage available when growing cucamelons. Freezers and dehydrators spoil the pulp and make it inedible.
Cucamelon's bulbous root structure is quite unique. Source: UnconventionalEmma
When you first learn how to grow cucamelons, you may encounter some problems. Let's talk about it and what you can do about it.
If you put the Cucamelon under water, it could produce much smaller fruit than normal, making it difficult for you to get a good harvest. You can still save the smaller fruits and extract seeds to grow again the following spring. However, you may not have a crop to sell at a farmer's market, or even not enough to eat. Try it again.
Another problem that can arise is a lack of pollination. Since cucamelons are open pollinated, they need support in places where no other pollinating plants are present. Try pollinating them by hand, just like cucumbers indoors or in greenhouses where bees, flies, and bugs don't have access to them.
Nutrient excesses and deficiencies can result in disproportionate production of leaves compared to fruit, or possibly even no bud production. Don't over-fertilize your plants. If you notice discoloration on the leaves due to nutrient deficiencies, consult a guide to determine what nutrients are missing, then add them lightly to the soil.
The Cucamelon is not attacked by significant pests. That's pretty cool, isn't it?
Root-knot nematodes are known to attack the root-knot zone when they are already present and feeding on other plants. Application of beneficial nematodes can help reduce pest nematode numbers.
The mold pathogen Pseudoperonospora cubensis is a fungal pathogen that can cause Wrong mildew on Cucamelon. It creates angular lesions that yellow your vine's leaf cells. It causes reduced yields, failed fruit and sometimes sunburns on the tiny melons. Often this disease occurs when conditions are too wet and too warm for a long time. First remove all damaged plant parts and dispose of them in the residual waste. Neem oil sprayed on the plant every 7 to 10 days outside of the flowering and fruiting seasons can control the disease. For larger infections, spray copper fungicide every 7 to 10 days until infection is controlled.
Podosphaera fuliginea is an associated pathogen powdery mildew on Cucamelon. It presents as a powdery film on leaves and vines. When infested, the fungus grows into mounds of mycelium, which multiply to spread elsewhere. Remove and discard all affected plant parts. Then use neem oil or copper fungicides in the manner described in the last paragraph.
If you notice dark green speckles on the leaves of your Cucamelon, you may have cucumber mosaic virus. There is no known control for this disease. The only way to prevent spread is to remove all plant parts and discard in a sealed plastic bag.
frequently asked Questions
You may have to search the vines to find hidden cucamelons. Source: Jaula DeArdilla
Q: How long does cucamelons take to grow?
A: They grow fast, about 80 days from seed to fruit.
Q: Do cucamelons grow back every year?
A: They can return via their bulbous roots. In zone 7 they act like perennials. Treat them like annuals elsewhere.
Q: How does Cucamelon taste?
A: It's like a little tart pickle.
Q: How do you eat a Cucamelon?
A: Eat them whole, sliced in salads, in gazpacho, or pickled like regular pickles.
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