Easy alternative to cucumbers
I decided to give growing cucamelons (Melothria scabra) a try, mainly because I’m not that partial to cucumbers, although others in the family are, and their easiness seemed like a good halfway house.
It’s a vine with fruit the size of grapes, which taste like cucumbers with a tinge of sourness/lime but look like a miniature melon.
It’s also called the mouse melon, Mexican sour gherkin, Mexican miniature watermelon and Mexican sour cucumber.
By these names, you’ll have guessed it’s an old domesticated crop native to Mexico and Central America, where it is called sandita (little watermelon).
I sowed mine in April and was concerned about the initial lack of growth, but apparently, they take a while to establish, then take off big style, reaching up to 10ft in the right conditions.
If you can’t be bothered with the faff of cucumbers, cucamelons are drought and pest-resistant.
They produce male and female flowers on the same plant but can pollinate themselves, with fruits developing at the base of the female flower.
Although the packet says they don’t need to be grown under glass, I grow mine in the shelter of the lean-to greenhouse, away from the winds and cool, grey days that are a feature of most NE summers.
They can be planted close together and mine did well in the usual unconventional pots – a Funky Laundry shopping bag (three in there) – www.funkylaundry.co.uk – and two in the magic 99p Ikea kids’ blue toy boxes (with holes skewered in the bottom for drainage).
Potted guide: cucamelons from seed
- SOWING TIME: April-May in a propagator/windowsill, ideal germination temp 24C, 6-14 days.
- HARVESTING TIME: July-October.
- ASPECT AND SOIL: Full sun, rich, well-drained soil.
- HARDINESS: Tender.
- DIFFICULTY: Moderate to get going, then easy.
IF you grew cucamelons, I bet you weren’t expecting these.
They’re perennials and produce large, radish-like roots, which you can store like dahlias and start into growth the next spring for earlier crops – it also means you miss out on their slow start to life.
In autumn, expose the roots to see if they have produced tubers. Store these in slightly moist compost or Vermiculite in a frost-free place during winter.
Plant them up into pots in early to mid-April under glass, then either pot on into large containers in a cool greenhouse (I do this) or plant outside in warmer areas.
NOTE – trickier than it seems – the roots survived the winter, then promptly rotted when potted up.