Cucamelons are the most adorable and unique cucumbers you’ll ever meet – or grow! Follow along to learn how to grow cucamelons. This article will cover everything you need to know to grow your own from seed to table – including tips for planting, training, harvest, and plenty of ideas for how to eat them! In addition to their fun appearance and delicious flavor, cucamelons are also quite easy to grow. The vining plants are low-maintenance, container-friendly, and both drought and pest-resistant. Once established in your garden, you can overwinter the perennial root tubers to easily grow cucamelons again next year. I mean… what’s not to love?
But first, let’s get better acquainted with our tasty little friends!
What are cucamelons?
Cucamelons are a type of cucumber native to Mexico and areas of Central America, more formally known as Mexican Sour Gherkins. The grape-size speckled cucumbers grow on sprawling but delicate, thin vines. They’re also sometimes called “mouse melons”. Despite their silly common names and striking resemblance to mini watermelons, cucamelons are not melons at all! Though, they are part of the same Cucurbit plant family which includes all cucumbers, melons, squash, gourds, and pumpkins. And no, cucamelons are not GMO or genetically modified! (It’s crazy-silly how many folks jump to that conclusion when they first see this unusual fruit…)
What do cucamelons taste like?
Cucamelons taste very much like a regular cucumber, but with an extra-refreshing citrus-like tang. Some folks say it’s like a cucumber with a hint of lime. The skin is crisp and crunchy, so these bite-size cucumbers often go POP in your mouth. The inside is full of small, soft seeds. If cucamelons are left on the vine too long they can become more tough or bitter, so it’s important to pick them in their prime! Cucamelons are excellent enjoyed fresh, and absolutely delicious pickled.
HOW TO GROW CUCAMELONS
Starting cucamelons from seed
The best way to grow cucamelons is from seed. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and find a cucamelon seedling at your local nursery… but I’ve never seen them! When you’re seed shopping, remember to search by their formal botanical name – Mexican Sour Gherkins. Plan to start seeds indoors, since they can be finicky to germinate and are also frost-sensitive.
Curious where to buy cucamelon seeds? Buy cucamelon seeds here!
To grow cucamelons from seed, follow the usual seed-starting best practices: Sow seeds about ¼” deep in small containers of sterile seed starting mix, and lightly cover them with soil. Maintain the soil damp (but not soggy) at all times during germination. A humidity dome or other cover will help prevent the top of the soil (and seed!) from drying out. Seeds will most readily sprout around 75 to 80°F, and will struggle to sprout in cool conditions. Use a seedling heat mat to provide a consistent ideal temperature. After sprouting, cucamelon seedlings will appreciate ample bright light from a grow light. New to growing from seed? Learn more here: “Seed Starting 101, How to Sow Seeds Indoors”.
When to start cucamelon seeds inside
Cucamelon seeds are notoriously slow to germinate, and can take several weeks. Their seedlings may seem sluggish at first too. So, be patient! They’ll come around, especially once they’re transplanted outdoors and the weather warms up. Because of their leisurely nature as seedlings, plan to start cucamelon seeds plenty early – around the same time you would start peppers indoors in your zone (rather than with the other cukes). Don’t worry if you get a slightly later start though! Better late than never… and you don’t want to miss out on growing these cuties.
When to plant cucamelons outside?
Transplant cucamelon seedlings outside in spring, after the risk of frost has passed. If you aren’t sure about frost dates in your area, check with your local county garden extension center– or reference the planting calendars below! We made calendars for every hardiness zone. Before planting them outside, be sure to harden off indoor-raised seedlings to prevent transplant shock or damage. After planting, be prepared to protect young cucamelon seedlings from late spring frost as needed (e.g. with a cloche, or hoops and frost cover). Learn more transplanting best practices here.
Get your Homestead and Chill planting calendar here (available for all zones)
Ideal Conditions for Growing Cucamelons
Sun, soil, and water
Considering their native origin, it should come as no surprise that cucamelons grow best with plenty of sun, warmth, and are even drought-tolerant once established. So, choose a nice sunny location in your garden to grow cucamelons. They will also tolerate partial shade (and may even appreciate some afternoon shade in very hot climates) but will bear less fruit in deep shade. Also keep in mind that these sprawling, climbing vines will require the support of a trellis or other structure! See more about trellises and training below.
Cucamelons will grow happily in moderately rich but well-draining soil. Amend the soil with aged compost and/or modest amount of well-balanced mild fertilizer before planting. However, cucamelons are not heavy feeders. Throughout the growing season, maintain the soil lightly moist but never soggy. Apply an inch or two of mulch around the base of the vines once they’re a couple feet tall and well-established.
How far to space cucamelons? Do I need more than one plant?
Because cucamelons grow on thin and delicate vines, you can easily get away with planting a couple seedlings close to one another. They’ll simply grow into one mass of vines. We usually grow a few plants up a shared trellis, sometimes just a few inches apart and other times a couple feet. Similarly, you could plant two or three cucamelon seedlings in a common container. Yet you do not need to grow several plants. One or two will produce plenty of bite-size fruits! You can also grow cucamelons alongside other plants on the same large trellis, such as with classic cucumbers, beans, or other climbing annuals.
Pollination and Seed-Saving: Do I need more than one cucamelon plant?
Cucamelons are self-fertile. They have both male and female flowers, and do not need a partner plant for cross-pollination. Common garden pollinators or wind will transfer pollen between the flowers. Cucamelons are also open-pollinated, which means you can save seeds from the fruit that grows in your garden. Because they’re different species, cucamelons will not cross-pollinate with other types of cucumbers, so the seeds you save will produce ‘true to seed’. However, remember that you have the option of overwintering established root tubers rather than starting over from seed again! You’ll find information about how to overwinter cucamelon tubers at the end of this article.
Can cucamelons be grown in pots?
Absolutely! In fact, the first time we grew cucamelons was in a 15-gallon fabric grow bag and they did great! Whatever type of pot or container you use, be sure it has drainage holes. Fill the container with potting soil, which is specifically designed for use in containers and will readily drain excess moisture. This is important since cucamelons are fairly drought-tolerant, and don’t like to be in soggy soil or standing water. Feel free to add a little compost or slow-release fertilizer too, as mentioned in the soil section above.
Cucamelon vines can grow over 10 feet in length! Technically, you could allow them to sprawl out and trail over the ground, but they’ll take up a significant amount of space in your garden that way. Instead, it’s best to train cucamelons up a trellis or other support structure, like an arch, arbor, tall cage, or even up a single string or wire – like hops. You can also easily add a trellis or wire cage to a pot or container to grow cucamelons on. Once you get them headed in the right direction, the vines will readily climb and cling to whatever structure you provide. Growing cucamelons vertically will save space, keep the plants more manageable, and also make it easier to see and harvest fruit!
Need trellis ideas? Come learn how to build several different sturdy, inexpensive, and easy DIY trellis designs here. We have tutorials on how to make super simple mobile trellises or heavy-duty ones with wood frames. Or, check out the awesome selection of trellises and arches or arbors available from Gardener’s Supply, my favorite B-corp!
Cucamelons are low-maintenance and pest-resistant. They attract very few pest insects or diseases compared to other types of cucumber or vining plants. Supposedly, they may be prone to powdery mildew infections – but we’ve never had that issue, and we see quite a bit of PM in our garden on other plants! Other common pests like aphids, caterpillars, mealy bugs, and white fly do not affect our cucamelons either.
Harvest cucamelons once they reach their mature size – about the size of a large grape. It is best to harvest them early and often. If allowed to sit too long on the vine, mature cucamelons have the tendency to become increasingly bitter and tough. To be honest, I don’t always follow this advice though – and often pick them past their “prime”. They’re still perfectly edible and tasty then, IMHO! After harvest, store cucamelons in the refrigerator.
To harvest cucamelons, simply pinch or gently pluck them from the vine. The thin tendril-like stems easily break, so you won’t need scissors. This makes cucamelons perfect for kiddos who are eager to help harvest the adorable fruit – and eat them right from the vine! (I mean, can we blame them?) Be cautious with tiny tots since these could be a choking hazard.
Ways to Eat Cucamelons
You can eat cucamelons any way you’d enjoy other cucumbers, and more! They’re excellent whole or halved on top of salads, sliced on a sandwich, pickled, or fermented. Their crunch and tangy flavor is a welcome addition to cold pasta salad, rice salad, or even in salsa. An Indian friend of mine enjoys them cooked, and will stir fry thinly-sliced cucamelons with cumin seed, turmeric, dry chilis, and salt to serve on top of rice.
Because they’re so darn cool looking, they’re easy to get creative with and can double as an eye-catching garnish. Folks like to garnish cocktails with cucamelons – whole, halved or muddled. (I’ve heard they go exceptionally well with gin.) It would also be super fun to freeze cucamelons inside ice cubes to add to cocktails or other refreshing summer beverages.
One of my favorite ways to use a bumper crop of homegrown cucamelons is to pickle them. Check out our quick and easy refrigerator pickled cucamelons recipe here. I hate to toot my own horn, but it’s SO. GOOD. Hint: you can use the same recipe to pickle regular cucumbers, peppers, or green beans too! If you prefer a lacto-fermented pickle instead of vinegar brine, simply follow this fermented beet recipe and substitute the beets for cucamelons. (They will retain the best texture if you leave them whole and add a grape leaf to the jar, as described in our pickling recipe.)
How to Overwinter Cucamelon Tubers
As cucamelon vines mature, the root system develops knobby tubers. They are white to off-white in color, and range from 3 to 6 inches long. See the photo below. Each plant can grow one to several tubers. The tubers are perennial, meaning new vines will grow from them year after year! That is, as long as they are protected from freezing conditions.
Overwintering cucamelon tubers in place
In climates with mild, frost-free winters, you can simply cut back the vines at the end of the growing season and leave the cucamelon tubers in the soil. Then, they’ll sprout up again the following spring. If your area only receives some frost but the ground does not freeze solid (for example, zones 8 and higher), you can overwinter cucamelon tubers right in the ground too. However, apply a thick layer of mulch on top for added insulation, such as straw, shredded leaves, or aged compost.
Digging up cucamelon tubers
Zones 7 and lower will need to overwinter cucamelon tubers in containers to protect them from freezing. When digging up cucamelon tubers, it is important to be gentle and take care not to break or damage them. Otherwise, they may not survive storage. To dig up cucamelon tubers, use a pitch fork or shovel to dig wide and deep around the base of the plant, and gently lift and sift through the soil. The tubers may grow up to a foot deep. Do not pull up on the base of the plant or other roots with the hope of unearthing the tuber without loosening the soil around them first. Even though our area is frost-free, we occasionally dig up our cucamelon tubers to relocate them to different garden beds.
How to store cucamelon tubers
Store and overwinter cucamelon tubers in a pot, tub, or other container with fresh potting soil, peat moss, or horticultural sand – much like you would store dahlia tubers or root vegetables. Pre-moisten your medium of choice (potting soil, sand or peat), add a few inches to the bottom to the container, lay the tubers in on top (not touching), then cover with another few inches of the damp medium. Repeat this process several ‘lasagna layers’ deep if you have a lot of cucamelon tubers to store.
Store the container in a cool, dark, protected location that will not be susceptible to freezing, such as a basement, root cellar, garage or spare closet. Dampen very lightly with water if the medium dries out, but avoid very wet conditions or the tubers may rot. Erring on the dry side is better. Potted cucamelon plants can be overwintered in the same fashion, but right in their current container! Simply move the pot to a protected location for the winter, then put it back out in spring.
Planting overwintered cucamelon tubers
Come spring and after the risk of frost has passed, it is time to plant your overwintered cucamelon tubers back in the garden. Plant cucamelon tubers just an inch or two below the soil surface, making it easy for the thin tendrils to emerge. Gardeners with short growing seasons may want to get a jump start by pre-sprouting the cucamelon tubers indoors in containers several weeks before their last frost date. To do so, simply fill a pot with fresh potting soil, place the cucamelon tubers near the top, and cover them with one to two inches of soil. Maintain damp and warm, and place the container near a sunny window or under a grow light once new vines emerge. Gradually harden off the container of sprouted tubers before transplanting them out into the garden.
And that concludes this lesson on how to grow cucamelons.
What do you say? Are you feeling excited to add these interesting and unusual fruit to your summer harvest basket? After reading this article, I hope you feel armed with all the information you need to successfully grow cucamelons… and pickle them too! Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback in the comments below. Also, if you found this article to be valuable, please spread the love by pinning or sharing or this post!
Don’t miss these fun grow guides and related articles:
- How to Build a Trellis: Easy and Inexpensive DIY Designs
- How to Grow Zucchini and Summer Squash
- Growing Organic Tomatoes: How to Plant, Prune, Support and Grow Tomatoes
- How to Grow Bushy Basil to Harvest All Summer Long
- How to Grow Bushels of Beans (Bush Beans or Pole Beans)
The post How to Grow Cucamelons: Mexican Sour Gherkins appeared first on Homestead and Chill.
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