Add a bit of whimsy to your garden this year with an adorable cucamelon plant. This small plant is a delicate, yet strong vining one that produces dainty fruit resembling a tiny one-inch watermelon. The fruit has the surprising flavor of a slightly tangy cucumber. The fruit’s interesting combination of appearance and flavor gives the cucamelon its name. The cucamelon plant makes for a fun little conversation piece in your backyard.
The cucamelon (Melothria scabra) is a native plant to Mexico and Central America. Evidence shows these little treats were a staple food source for many early tribal people there. Nowadays, the cucamelon is also known as mouse melon, Mexican sour gherkin, or Sandiita, which means “little watermelon” in Spanish. They are found growing wild in some southern locations in the United States, but they can be grown anywhere, much like its relative, the cucumber.
How to grow and care for cucamelon
Cucamelons are easy to plant and care for. While seeds can be sown directly after the danger of frost, start the seeds indoors in April or May to lengthen the plant’s fruit production period. Transplant outdoors after danger of frost. Provide a trellis or wire for your vines. Keep the plant watered, and prepare for a bountiful crop from July until the first frost. Harvest the fruit when it feels firm. Wait until it pulls from the vine easily.
The cucamelon’s value as an addition to your garden is not limited to its cuteness. Give the little fruits a try in stir fry, in salads, or just pop a few in your mouth for a snack. They add a crispy burst of flavor to a sandwich or to salsa. They can also be preserved in the same fashion as pickles.
Pests and problems
Although similar to cucumbers in planting and care, cucamelons are more cold tolerant and drought tolerant. They prove mini but mighty as they are resilient to pests and other problems. They reseed easily on their own. Overgrowing may be the only downside to these undersized cuties, but few consider their happy, proliferative nature to be a downside at all.
Cucamelon seeds are not easy to come by. Once you get a hold of some, you might choose to save seeds. To do this, pick up overripe fruit that has fallen to the ground. Place the fruit in a cool location for a couple of weeks to ripen even further. When the fruit is ready, slice it open and scoop out the seeds. Place the seeds in a jar of water for at least five days. When some of the seeds have sunk to the bottom of the jar, rinse the seeds off, spread them on a screen, and set them aside to dry in a cool location. The seeds are ready to store when they are dry enough to snap when broken. Seeds can be stored in an airtight jar for up to 10 years.
For more tips on growing and using these ornamental edibles visit:
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of poppet with a camera.