August 27, 2015

A member of the melon family, cucamelons produce a bucketload of fruit that can be made into pickles or enjoyed in a fruit salad. 

I always enjoy growing a few new-to-me-things in my vegetable garden every year. You never know when you’re going to hit the jackpot and find a new family favorite. It seems that 2015 is one of those years!

At the suggestion of a fellow garden writer, I decided to grow cucamelons for the first time—and how happy I am that I did! These little beauties may only be an inch long, but they pack a unique flavor that my family and friends have really enjoyed.

Cucamelons (Melothria scabra) are also called Mexican sour gherkins or mouse melons. Close relatives of cucumbers and other cucurbits, they’re native to Mexico and Central America and have been grown for centuries; for some reason, here in the U.S. we’ve only just “discovered” them. They are probably the cutest little things I’ve ever grown.

With a flavor much like a citrusy cucumber, my cucamelons were slow to grow, but once they took hold, they were off like a shot and haven’t stopped growing since. I sowed the tiny seeds into the garden in late May, at the base of an 8-foot-long section of box-wire fencing I installed on metal stakes hammered into the ground. The seeds germinated pretty quickly, but the young plants grew very slowly, and for a time, I thought the cucumber beetles might get the best of them. But a few weeks later, there was no stopping the vines. I now have an 8-foot-long, 4-foot-tall “fence” of cucamelons. The vines are lush and green, and each one grows dozens of tiny cucamelons. I’ve harvested 8 pounds of the tiny fruits so far—and, trust me, it takes a lot of them to make a pound!

I’ve made pickles out of them; turned them into a cucamelon salad with carrots, onions and an Asian sesame dressing; and we’ve eaten them by the handful, right off the plants. Yum!

Here are some tips to remember if you ever decide to grow cucamelons of your own:

  • Like their cucumber cousins, cucamelons are monoecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne separately on each plant. The male flowers provide the pollen while the female flowers will go on to produce the fruit.

  • The flowers are very tiny—like a 1/6 inch tiny—and the little, iridescent native bees love them! Even if you don’t harvest the fruit, they make a great pollinator plant.
  • Don’t let the plants ramble; instead, grow them up a trellis or fence of some sort. If they’re left to spread out over the ground, harvesting them will be a major pain. There are so many fruits, you’d be bending over for hours just to harvest them all.
  • The seeds are extremely small, but they hold a lot of potential. Don’t plant the entire seed packet, unless you plan to eat a lot of cucamelons! Start with a dozen seeds at most. You can always grow more the following year.
  • Each fruit is about the size of a grape, but the texture is far crunchier than you’d expect. They make delicious little dill pickles just by using one of those pre-packaged dill pickle spice blends you can get at the grocery store.
  • The seeds are carried by several seed houses, including Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Territorial Seeds.

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