Cucamelons

Short version:

These are just hilarious little lemony cucumbers. You won’t get an amazing amount of food from these but they’re fun to grow, especially for little people.

These are also called, mouse melons, Mexican sour cucumber, with a botanical name of melothria scabra, but they are still a member of the Cucurbitaceae family like squash, cucumbers, melons and loofahs.

Growing

Sow a seed or two in single pots indoors in April/May.

You get very delicate thin vines. Because they are so thin you can get away with a couple growing together.

Plant out when all danger of frost has passed in the sunniest spot possible.

You do need to provide something for them to climb up. They grab on with these little tendrils that wind tightly round anything they can including its own vine and others nearby.

You’ll see tiny yellow flowers of the male or female persuasion but I’ve never had a problem with the pollination of these, unlike the full sized squashes (which sometimes need hand pollinating). They produce an abundance of male and female flowers simultaneously so there is always plenty of opportunity for insects to do their thing.

Eating

Harvesting can start in July/August.

And you can see it’s still limping along mid October.

They taste like lemony cucumbers. They’re great for little hands to pick and eat straight off the vine (though be aware it might be a choking hazard for anyone who still needs their grapes cutting in half). When we’ve grown enough to survive little one’s garden grazing, we’ve put them in salads, in Pimms, they go really well in gin and tonic and they’re a great snack box item when on the go.

I don’t think the plants did particularly well this year. It wasn’t as sunny this summer as last year and though these spots get the best sun in the garden, the soil here isn’t that fertile and they are competing with the grass. Also, my small child has a ‘provide a wide berth’ approach to her swinging so I can’t be too precious about any plants grown up the legs. I’m afraid I have no self control. I can’t stop myself from growing food up any available structure.

Seed saving

Often with cucurbits you need to worry about varieties cross pollinating as all the squashes in the family cucurbita pepo (pumpkins, courgettes, spaghetti squash, acorn, hubbard, patty pan) can pollinate each other. I haven’t seen any varieties of the cucamelon so it may just be one type in the species. This means that the flowers will always be pollinated by similar genetic material so I suspect that the seeds will grow plants similar to the parents. I’ve seen evidence of this when they have self-seeded in the past and the plants that have grown have produced cucamelons the same as their parent plants. They have only self-seeded 2 out of the 5 years that I’ve grown them so that’s not a reliable method of propagation. This I think I’ll try and save some seeds and I’ll let you know how successful they might be next year.

Pests

In the 5 years that I’ve grown them they only seem to be bothered by shield bugs – southern green shield bugs particularly. These little buggers stick their proboscis into the flesh of the cucamelon, which results in tiny bumps on the melon surface. They don’t destroy the fruit, so I’m usually satisfied to just flick them off when I see them.

Grown for giggles

This doesn’t fit the profile of my usual plants. It’s not perennial, it’s not a trigger happy self seeder, you don’t get a huge crop per plant and they taste fine but it’s not a taste bud revelation. I do love them though because they’re fun, I haven’t seen them sold in shops and the plants are so thin and wirey there’s always somewhere to squeeze in a plant or two. They take up so little space in the ground but grow up nice and tall. They just make a nice little snack in the garden, salad filler and are a bit of a mind bender for those who assume it’s a watermelon when posted in photos with cherry tomatoes.

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