There’s a buzz amongst vegetable growers.
You may have seen them on social media?
Cucamelons have hit the top of the “must grow” vegetables list. Gardeners have been adding them to their gardens and they have become one the cutest and most interesting vegetables. Those that haven’t grown them yet, plan to do so next year.
But, what’s a cucamelon?
Is it a cucumber or a melon?
Cucamelons look like tiny watermelons. However, cucamelons are not cucumbers and they’ve been around for 100’s of years.
If you want to know more about cucamelons and why you should grow them, read on to find out what they are and why you should grow them.
Cucamelons are a member of the cucumber family, Cucurbitaceae. However, cucamelons and cucumbers are members of different genuses, so they are not the same. While cucumbers are members of the genus Cucumis, cucamelons are members of the genus Melothria. As such, their growing characteristics, requirements and potential pests are also different.
The fruits really do look like tiny watermelons. Their delicate vines and tiny leaves remind me of a miniature garden. If you haven’t seen them before, the first developing fruits will come as a delightful surprise. Fruits develop to the size of a grape, approximately 3 cm long by 2 cm wide (1.25 inch long by 0.8 inches wide). Their flavour resembles a cucumber, however they have a lemony finish. Their skin is thin, yet firm and their interior is juicy. Vines grow slowly from seedling stage, but once established will accelerate quickly and may grow to 10 feet long.
Cucamelons (Melothria scabra) are an exciting addition to a vegetable garden. Since they are different than cucumbers, they have their own benefits to growing them.
Why You Should Add Cucamelons to Your Garden
My 6 Reasons:
- Drought tolerant and disease and pest-resistant – Compared to cucumbers, cucamelons have far fewer pests, and are susceptible to very few diseases. Unlike cucumbers, cucamelons are resistant to powdery mildew! This is a huge plus for growers that have been plagued with it when growing cucumbers. In addition, cucamelons aren’t affected by cucumber beetles, squash borers or even rodents.
Cucamelon has a tuberous root and is very efficient at storing water. The older the plant gets, the larger the tuber becomes. Historically, cucamelons originated from Mexico and Central America. If they were able to withstand the drought-filled and dry conditions of their native homes, they should have a higher likelihood of surviving dry conditions elsewhere.
- Hardier than cucumbers – Cucamelons are more cold tolerant than cucumbers. Once the weather cools off and rains begin to fall, cucamelons will continue to produce fruit. Unlike cucumber plants, which are more sensitive to wet and cold. In some cases, this may be several weeks longer than a cucumber plant’s lifespan.
- Self-pollinating – Cucamelons are monoecious, meaning they have male and female flowers on one plant and are capable of self-pollination. Similar to cucumbers, fruits develop at the base of female flowers. Wind or pollinators transfer pollen from the male flowers to female flowers.
- Won’t cross pollinate with other members of the cucumber family, making seed saving easy – If you’d like to save cucamelon seeds, you may do so freely, without worrying about cross-pollination with other plants. Since cucamelon is of the genus Melothria, it is unable to cross with members of the cucumber genus, Cucumis. Therefore, plant your cucumbers next to cucamelons. Cucumber plants will cross, while cucamelon plants will produce true seed.
- Numerous health benefits – Cucamelons are rich in Lycopenes (a heart improving antioxidant), beta carotene (helps to maintain eye health and young skin), minerals, and vitamin K, E, C and fiber.
- A rare vegetable, not sold in stores – You’ll unlikely find cucamelons sold at the grocery store. If you’d like to try this vegetable, you’re best to grow it in your own garden, from seed. Cucamelons add a lovely visual appeal and interest to your plate. They pack a burst of flavour and crunch, similar to cucumbers, yet are more fun. Eat them whole as a snack, pickled, chopped into salsa or salads, or in place of olives.
5 Steps to Growing Cucamelons
Here are my steps:
- Start your cucamelon seeds indoors, approximately 4 weeks prior to the final spring frost date. To know the best date for transplanting out your cucamelon seedlings, please refer to my Outdoor Planting Calculator.
- Sow seeds 1/2 an inch deep or at the depth of double the seed size.
- Keep the seedlings evenly moist and don’t allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Seedlings are very small and fine and won’t recover if allowed to dry out completely. In the same token, don’t overwater your seedlings. Soggy soil may cause fungus knats, mold or other problems.
- Plant out seedlings after all risk of frost has passed. I prefer to space my seedlings fairly close together, around 3 to 4 inches apart. Cucamelon plants don’t require much distance between them.
- Choose a full sun location, with good quality, well draining soil. Cucamelons will also grow successfully in a pot. If planting in a pot, plant your seedlings around the perimeter, spaced 3 to 4 inches apart.
- Cucamelons grow best up a trellis or support and are easier to find when harvesting. Be sure to provide your plants with a support structure, allowing them to climb and wrap their tiny tendrils around it. If cucamelons are planted in a pot, use a bamboo structure or tomato cage for support.
When to Harvest?
- Cucamelons are ready for harvest when fruits are the size of a grape. You will see as you begin to harvest them, that ripe cucamelons have broader shoulders and a deeper colour. Unripe cucamelons are narrow and short. If uncertain, experiment by harvesting your fruit at different stages. You’ll quickly decide at which stage you prefer to eat them.
- Be sure to harvest frequently, in order to encourage more fruit production.
Additional Harvesting Tip:
Cucamelon fruit are very small, often hanging behind a cucamelon leaf. Simply running your hand along the foliage will help to locate any inconspicuous fruit.
A Surprising Trick!
As I mentioned previously, cucamelon plants develop a tuberous root. This is contrary to cucumbers, which produce a long, thick taproot, followed by many branching roots. These roots die at the end of the season and may be composted. There is no life left in them after the plant dies.
The advantage of a cucamelon’s tuber is the ability to pull it up at the end of the season and store it indoors, in a cool, dark place. If stored properly, the tuber may be planted out again the following year, approximately 1 week before the final frost date. By regrowing your cucamelons from the original tuber, you will essentially produce a larger plant, which will take less time to establish. The plant will grow faster and produce fruit, much earlier than first year seedlings.
There is one caveat to this method. Tubers must be pulled up gently, without damage. If damage takes place, the tuber may not survive storage. The most effective method for overwintering tubers is to grow your seedlings in large pots. At the end of the season, simply bring your pots indoors and store them in a frost-free, dark and cool location. The following year, bring your pots outside a week before the final frost date, water them and they should start growing anew.
Growing cucamelons couldn’t be simpler. Other than proper staking, they require very little work. Cucamelons need little water after establishing and are perfect in drought-like conditions. They have few pests, are affected by few, if any diseases and predators leave them alone. They have an eye-catching and beautiful appearance and a delicious flavour. I highly recommend adding them to your vegetable garden plans. Since I began growing them, they are a definite “must grow” for me!