Although most of us have never heard of the cucamelon, the watermelon mouse or the Mexican sour pickle, this is the one you will want to know a lot more about.
This cute fruit is the size of a grape, looks like a mini watermelon, and tastes like cucumber and lime.
A tart fruit that grows on a thin vine, surrounded by ivy-like leaves.
Although a bit odd in appearance, cucamelons are not some weird genetically modified hybrid, but rather a Central American delicacy that has been eaten since pre-Columbian times and is a staple in the Mexican diet.
Just because cucamelons are small doesn’t mean their nutritional value is low.
Some say it’s on its way to becoming the next trendy superfood, packed with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fiber, while being low in calories.
They contain a high level of lycopene and beta-carotene, known for their remarkable antioxidant properties.
Why grow cucamelon.
Along with its great nutritional benefits, this adorable and tasty fruit is something you’ll be hard pressed to find at your regular store.
Therefore, it is best to grow them in your garden or orchard. You can taste them whenever you want and have fun experimenting with them in all kinds of recipes.
This exotic plant can be part of your garden, as it is one of the easiest to grow, as it suffers from very few pests and does not require excessive care.
Cucamelons are very drought tolerant, even more so than cucumbers. Although they are well known in Mexico and throughout Central America, they are found growing wild in parts of the southern United States, although they can be grown just about anywhere, just like their relative, the cucumber.
How to grow cucamelons.
Buy the seeds.
Cucamelon seeds aren’t exactly easy to find. Your best option is to buy them online, as you shouldn’t pay much more than for any other type of seed.
On Amazon there are several sellers of cucamelon seeds, for example this one.
Keep in mind that the crops that will thrive best in your garden or orchard are those grown from high-quality seed that has been carefully nurtured and adapted to your growing conditions. When you are offered organic or chemical-free seeds, buy them. In most cases, they will be the best.
Since seeds are not easy to get, when you have plants and fruits, be sure to save some of the seeds.
All you need to do is pick up a fallen ripe fruit and place it in a cool place. In about two weeks you can open it and remove the seeds. Store the seeds in a jar filled with water for a week, then rinse and dry on paper towels in a cool place. Once dry, store them in a paper envelope.
They are grown as annual vegetables in most areas, although they are technically perennials.
They need a long growing season, with at least 65-75 days of warm, frost-free weather.
If you live in a cooler area, you can grow them in pots and move them indoors to a bright, warm room when nighttime temperatures drop.
Grow cucamelon indoors.
The best way to start growing cucamelons is indoors, 6-8 weeks before the risk of frost subsides.
Although they can be planted directly in the ground once all danger of frost has passed, it is best to start them indoors and transplant them outside when all danger has passed.
Another option is to plant a seed in each pot, half a centimeter deep, and place them in a greenhouse.
Be patient, cucamelons are slow starters, especially compared to growing cucumbers.
They need more time to germinate, and it can take up to three or four weeks before you start to see those little green shoots appear.
Cucamelons like full sun and rich, fast-draining soil. Choose a growing location facing south and leave a space of at least 30 square centimeters for each plant.
At least six hours of direct sunlight a day is needed to keep plants healthy and productive. The more sun they get, the better off they are.
As a vine that can climb up to 10 feet tall, they need a support structure to keep their stems and fruit off the ground, so set up a small trellis or tomato cage for them to grow taller. .
Like most fruit crops in the garden, cucamelon needs plenty of food and very well-drained soil to produce its best.
The soil they grow in should be amended with compost to provide nutrition that lasts all season.
A constant supply of water is essential for growing cucamelon.
You should water every five or seven days during the summer months. When the weather is very hot and dry, increase watering to twice a week.
If you are in a region with a cold climate, be sure to watch the soil during prolonged periods of lack of sun: water only if the soil dries out on top and only if necessary.
In warm interior regions, it is best to spread a layer of light mulch around each plant, holding it down from the base of the stems. Mulch can help regulate moisture loss and prevent weeds from invading the plant.
Pest problems and reseeding.
Incredibly, cucamelons are not only extremely tolerant of harsh conditions, they are virtually immune to all pests and are also disease resistant. Even the birds don’t bother them. This means that pest control is not an issue you need to worry about when growing this plant.
The cucamelon is a plant that needs to be staked, it is the way for your plant to grow in an orderly way.
Once flowering begins, the small fruits of the cucamelons will soon arrive.
Pick the fruit when it has reached a good size, more or less like a grape.
Pick the first ones at a slightly earlier stage to force more fruit production.
After pollination, it takes 2 to 3 weeks for cucamelon fruits to reach a suitable size for harvest.
Harvest your cucamelons by simply pulling them up without tearing the plant. If in doubt, use small scissors.
If you harvest them carefully, they should continue to grow for quite some time and you should have a bountiful harvest from July to mid-November.
If you’re new to this and growing from seed, don’t expect a very tall plant the first year.
It is not necessary to do a very complex pruning, but it will be necessary to prune a little because as the season progresses, the vine ends up creating a thick mass of foliage on the trellising.
When this starts to happen, some leaves will be drowned out by sunlight and begin to turn yellow. Remove dying leaves.
How to use cucamelon.
Cucamelons can be used in a wide variety of dishes.
They are excellent in stir-fries, sauces and salads, or simply eaten raw or sprinkled with dried herbs.
They can also be tossed with sliced peppers and olives, accompanied by a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
They can also be pickled, just like cucumbers. The preparation of marinated cucamelons is very easy. It is better to salt them beforehand, because you will get a crispier result and the process will also be much faster.