Cucamelons may look like tiny watermelons, but they taste more like sour cucumbers.
Also known as Mexican sour gherkin cucumbers, mouse melons, and pepquinos, cucamelons (Melothria scabra) are cucurbits, which make them cousin to squash, melons, and gourds.
The cucamelon plant
Cucamelons grow on vines that climb nearby supports using tendrils. These plants produce both male and female flowers, making them monoecious. This means the plants can pollinate themselves, but the individual flowers are not self-pollinating. Native to Central America and Mexico, cucamelons need warm to hot temperatures to get started. Once established, your cucamelon plants will continue to produce fruit well into November.
How to grow cucamelons
Seeds should be planted 1 inch deep and 6 to 10 inches apart. Cucamelons are more drought tolerant and more rugged than other cucumbers, but they are slow growers, at first. Since cucumbers perform best in rich soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5, your cucamelons will probably benefit from moderate acidification, and top dressing the planting area with aged compost is always a good idea.
After seedlings emerge, thin plants to every 12 inches. Cucamelons need lots of sunlight, so they are not the best choice for shade gardening. Cucamelon vines can grow 10 feet long, so they need to be trellised onto tomato cages, along fences, cattle panels, or on a teepee made from bamboo or other thin poles. Keeping your cucamelons off the ground will help reduce slug feeding and fungal diseases, though pests and diseases of cucamelon are practically unheard of. Be sure to save a few of the fruits that fall to the ground on their own as a source for seeds for next year. Cucamelons also have tuberous roots that can be dug up in fall and stored over the winter in your garage, to be replanted in spring.
A word on the cucamelon flavor
It is difficult, at first, to put your mind’s expectation of a watermelon flavor aside, when biting into a cucamelon. And this leads to disappointment, because cucamelons don’t taste anything like watermelon. The actual flavor is more akin to a tangy cucumber crossed with a fava bean. If you expect watermelon, you probably won’t like it. If, instead, you can bite into these grape-sized fruits with an open mind, you may end up with a new garden favorite!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!