The cucamelon is a native plant to Central American and Mexico. Today, you may hear cucamelons referred to as Mexican sour gherkin, mouse melon, or Sandiita. This is a cute little fruit that is as tiny as a grape, but it doesn’t look like a grape …it looks like a miniature watermelon. It doesn’t taste like a watermelon though, this is a sour fruit that taste like a lime and cucumber. This fruit grows on a thing vine that has pretty leaves.
They may look bizarre, but they’re not some genetically-modified hybrid – they are a staple in Mexican diets.
How to Grow Cucamelons
Believe it or not, cucamelons are actually easy to care for. Directly after the danger of frost is gone, you can get the seeds started.
Buy the Seeds
Mind you, finding cucamelon sees aren’t easy. You’re probably not going to be able to buy them at your local garden center, so the best bet would be to purchase them online.
In most areas, people grow cucamelons as annual vegetables, but technically, they’re perennials, like tomatoes. Cucamelons required between 65 to 75 days of frost-free weather and the soil temperature should be between 75 to 85 degrees F in order to produce fruit. If you live in an area that is cooler, you can grow them in pots and move them inside to a bright room during the nighttime when temperatures are below 50 degrees.
Start them Indoors
We recommend stating the seeds inside during the month of April in order to lengthen the production period of the plant. After the danger of frost is gone, you can transplant them outdoors. Since they are vines (vines love growing on stuff), you should provide a trellis or a wire.
Choose the Location to Plant Them
Cucamelons love full sun and soil that is rich and fast-draining. For this reason, the location you choose to plant the vegetable should have full southern exposure. If you plan on planting more than one plant, make sure you have at least 12-square-inches of space between each plant. On a daily basis, the plant should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight in order to keep the plants healthy. The more sunlight they have shining on them, the better they’ll do.
Install a Trellis or Wire Cage
As we said above, these are vining plants, so they love to climb. In fact, they can climb as high as 10 feet in the area. These miniature looking melons need a good support structure in order to keep the fruit and their stems from the ground. For this reason, you should install a tomato cage or trellis for them to grow on. This will help you get thin vines that are surrounded by beautiful leaves, making for a very attractive appearance.
Choose the Right Soil
Of course, it is important that you choose the right soil. The soil should be amended with aged manure or compost so that they get the nutrition they require. You can take porous or lean soil and amend it with a 2-inch layer of compost prior to planting. Adding tiny lava rocks would be a good idea as this can improve the drainage of the soil. Once the plant has been established, they don’t need any type of supplemental feeding, other than a bit of compose each month, starting 2 months after you have planted them.
Watering the Plant
For good fruiting in cucamelons, you need a steady support of moisture. Every five days, during those summer months, offer the plant some water – water at least 15 inches of the soil each time. When the weather is very hot and dry, we recommend increasing the water routine to two times a week. Before you water the plant, check the soil and see if the top has tried out. You can use mulch to regulate the moisture – this will also prevent weeds from taking over.
Issues with Pests
Here’s the good news – cucamelons don’t really have any problems with pests, not even birds. This means that you don’t need any form of pest control.
Training That Vine
From time to time, the vine will need some help – those long tendrils will reach out to grasp onto anything in their way, which can pull the vine in different directions. When you see a tendril reaching out, give it a helping hand by taking it and gently wrapping it around the trellis.
Once you have noticed the plant flowering, keep a look out for the tiny cucamelons, because they’re nto far behind. Once the fruit has reached the size of a grape, it’ll be time to harvest. To force more fruit production, we recommend picking a couple of them at an earlier stage.
After the pollination process, it will take up to 3 weeks for the cucamelon to be harvestable. Simply pick the fruit off the vine. So that you do not rip the vine, you may want to use some scissors. As long as you harvest the fruit carefully, it should continue producing from July to November.
Mind you, if you grew this plant from a seed, during the first year, you’re not going to get a huge plant. If you have a plant from a tuber, it will grow at a faster pace than a seeding. Regardless, though, you can still expect a couple of handfuls of fruit from one plant during the first year. When you’re cutting the foliage during the fall, it is important that you do not disturb the tubers – those will stay underground and wait for next spring.
You can use cucamelons in a variety of dishes, like salsas, stir-fries and even salads. If you like, you can even eat them raw or toss them with sliced olives and peppers. Some people also choose to pickle them, just as they pickle cucumbers.