Information About Mexican Sour Gherkins
Cucamelon Harvest Info – Learn How To Harvest A Cucamelon Plant
By Mary Ellen Ellis
Cucamelon is a fun, diminutive veggie and a great addition to the garden. Knowing how to harvest a cucamelon, though, is not obvious, so it is important to understand how and when these fruits ripen and how to know when they're best to pick and eat. This article will help.
What Are Cucamelons: How To Plant Mexican Sour Gherkins
By Amy Grant
What looks just like a doll-sized watermelon, is actually referred to as a cucumber but really isn't a cucumber at all? Mexican sour gherkin cucumbers. Learn more about this interesting plant in this article. Click here for additional info.
I'm still on the fence about whether Mexican sour gherkins will be a permanent addition to our garden, but since the seeds are so expensive, I decided to save some just in case. With no seed saving information on the internet, I merged a tutorial on saving cucumber seeds with my own observations on the natural history of the Mexican sour gherkin to come up with the experimental protocol below.
First, I left some of the earliest fruits on the vine to see what would happen. When saving cucumber seeds, you're supposed to leave a cucumber on the vine until it turns yellow and is fully matured, but Mexican sour gherkins never seem to turn yellow (although they do take on a yellowish cast.) Instead, after a while they drop to the ground. I figured these fallen fruits must be mature, and gathered them for my seed-saving experiment.
Cutting open one of the fallen gherkins, I could see that the seeds now made up nearly the entire interior of the fruit. I squeezed out the guts of several fruits by poking a finger in each half. Like tomato seeds, these gherkin seeds were surrounded by a frog-egg-like sack of fluid that must be fermented away before the seeds can be saved. So I poured some water into the cup with my gherkin guts and left it alone.
The internet reports that the sack will have fermented away from cucumber seeds within three days, but my experience has shown that these sacks tend to take about a week to deteriorate in cool weather. Sure enough, a week later, the water in my cup had become milky and, when swished, I could see bare seeds settled at the bottom. So I carefully poured off the water, rinsed the seeds in another round of water, then turned them out onto a saucer to dry.
I'm very good at remembering to save seeds, but once they get to the drying stage, they tend to accumulate in jelly jars, cups, pans, saucers, and bowls in a long row along our windowsill. I finally got around to putting away tomato, cantaloupe, watermelon, garbanzo, drying bean, urd bean, okra, pepper, and poppy seeds while taking photos for this post --- see, a blog is good for something. Check out last year's lunchtime series for more tips on which seeds are easy to save and how to start your own seed saving campaign .
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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.
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Thanks so much for posting about saving these seeds. I was just thinking I'd buy more so I could grow seedlings for a couple of family members and was reminded how bloody expensive they are!
I'm wondering if you've done germination tests on them to see if your method worked.
Also wondering if there is anything I might be growing in my garden that could possibly cross with the MSGs. I can't find anything else in the Melothria family but M pendula, which seems to be a wild relative. Any info about this?
I don't have any data on whether it worked yet, unfortunately. I didn't run a germination test because the seeds look good and I think they probably will sprout. If for some reason they don't come up when I plant them in May, I'll post about it, but I suspect there won't be any problems.
I doubt anything in your garden will cross with them. They're in a different genus from all of the cultivated vegetables, so unless you just happen to have a close weedy relative around, you'll be in good shape.
Just wondering if these did come up? I have seeds for these that were a gift, when I grow them in summer I will want to save the seeds Thanks for a great write-upThat's excellent Anna!! I can't wait until it gets warm here (It's near the end of Autumn here in Australia lol.. long wait)
You Grow Girl
Barbie Doll Watermelons, that’s what I call them, because, well… that’s what they look like. Their real name is Mexican Sour Gherkin (Melothria scabra), but they also popularly go by mouse melon, cucamelon, and sandíita (meaning little melon in Spanish).
Mexican Sour Gherkin is a rampant vining plant with small, decorative leaves that remind me of a watermelon, but much, much smaller. It hails from Mexico and Central America (the name kind of gives it away), producing diminutive, cucumber-like fruit that are slightly tangy on the outside and fresh and watery inside. They are good in salads, stir-fried, or pickled, but most of my crop never make it as far as the kitchen as its tiny size and freshness makes it a great snack while working in the garden.
Unlike either cucumber or melons the plant is incredibly easy to grow. I first started growing it in my community garden and despite changes in location and growing conditions, I have never had any trouble producing a healthy crop. The plant is drought tolerant and doesn’t seem to have any pests that I have encountered. Seedlings often start out small and frail-looking and just when you think it will never grow it finally does. And once it starts, it will keep producing more and more fruit until the frost takes the whole plant down. It’s only real issue is that it seems to need sun to really get going. For years I thought it was warmth that it needed, but this year has been unseasonably cool and it is as vigorous as ever. However, a plant that I placed in a shadier spot has not been as productive as the plant that is out in full sun. Soil nutrition is also a contributing factor — treat it as you would any other cucumber. My experience also suggests that like cucumber it prefers a protected spot out of the path of strong wind.
This year (2019) I am selling a very limited quantity of Mexican Sour Gherkin seed through my seed shop.
- Start seed when you sow other cucumbers. In cooler climates, start indoors underneath lights and move outdoors after the last frost.
- Save seed from ripe fruit that has fallen to the ground.
- Harvest and eat fruit at just about any size.
- Super productive — regularly check around the leaves as well as the ground for ripe fruit.
- Give it a warm spot in full sun and water well until the plant is established.
- Be sure to situate it in front of a large and strong support structure. I did not make a large enough structure this year and I had to cobble something together with larger bamboo poles when it outgrew a smaller frame.
- Great for small spaces as it doesn’t need a lot of space on the ground level — grow it upward and sideways as an attractive and edible privacy screen.
- Urban Gardening: It’s drought tolerant and disease and pest resistant nature makes it a good choice for community garden plots that you can’t tend to regularly.
Growing Mexican Sour Gherkins
Growing Mexican sour gherkins is very similar to cultivating any cucumber or melon. They need full sun, well-draining soil, and even moisture. In cooler regions, start seeds indoors 6 weeks before the date of your last frost. Seeds germinate in about 10 days and should be hardened off and planted out 9 to 12 inches apart.
Vines may get as tall as 10 feet so it is a good idea to provide a trellis or cage to which the plant can adhere. Fruiting can start as early as July and last until September since they are actually more cold tolerant than many cucumber varieties. The standard cucumber pests and diseases apply. Avoid overhead watering to prevent mildew issues and watch for cucumber worms.
If you can’t source seed yourself, perhaps you are lucky enough to find someone who has grown them and saved seeds. Seeds are prolific and readily viable for a couple of years. To harvest seeds, split open very ripe fruit and scoop out the seeds. Place seeds and pulp in water for up to 5 days. This will slightly ferment the pulp and cause foam on the top of the container. Rinse the seeds in a colander several times and then spread them out to dry on a screen in a warm location.
Seeds are ready for storage when they are completely dry and should go into glass jars for long term storage in a cool, dark place. In this manner, you can have a ready supply of Mouse Melons even in northern climates. In warm regions, the composting dropped fruit will readily sprout the next year and self-seed themselves.
These marvelous melon-like-cucumber-ish fruits are a hit with kids and adults alike. Find yourself some seed before the next growing season and enjoy these quirky, ornamental little plants.
How to Overwinter Cucamelon Tubers
As cucamelon vines mature, the root system develops knobby tubers. They are white to off-white in color, and range from 3 to 6 inches long. See the photo below. Each plant can grow one to several tubers. The tubers are perennial, meaning new vines will grow from them year after year! That is, as long as they are protected from freezing conditions.
Overwintering cucamelon tubers in place
In climates with mild, frost-free winters, you can simply cut back the vines at the end of the growing season and leave the cucamelon tubers in the soil. Then, they’ll sprout up again the following spring. If your area only receives some frost but the ground does not freeze solid (for example, zones 8 and higher), you can overwinter cucamelon tubers right in the ground too. However, apply a thick layer of mulch on top for added insulation, such as straw, shredded leaves, or aged compost.
Digging up cucamelon tubers
Zones 7 and lower will need to overwinter cucamelon tubers in containers to protect them from freezing. When digging up cucamelon tubers, it is important to be gentle and take care not to break or damage them. Otherwise, they may not survive storage. To dig up cucamelon tubers, use a pitch fork or shovel to dig wide and deep around the base of the plant, and gently lift and sift through the soil. The tubers may grow up to a foot deep. Do not pull up on the base of the plant or other roots with the hope of unearthing the tuber without loosening the soil around them first. Even though our area is frost-free, we occasionally dig up our cucamelon tubers to relocate them to different garden beds.
How to store cucamelon tubers
Store and overwinter cucamelon tubers in a pot, tub, or other container with fresh potting soil, peat moss, or horticultural sand – much like you would store dahlia tubers or root vegetables. Pre-moisten your medium of choice (potting soil, sand or peat), add a few inches to the bottom to the container, lay the tubers in on top (not touching), then cover with another few inches of the damp medium. Repeat this process several ‘lasagna layers’ deep if you have a lot of cucamelon tubers to store.
Store the container in a cool, dark, protected location that will not be susceptible to freezing, such as a basement, root cellar, garage or spare closet. Dampen very lightly with water if the medium dries out, but avoid very wet conditions or the tubers may rot. Erring on the dry side is better. Potted cucamelon plants can be overwintered in the same fashion, but right in their current container! Simply move the pot to a protected location for the winter, then put it back out in spring.
Planting overwintered cucamelon tubers
Come spring and after the risk of frost has passed, it is time to plant your overwintered cucamelon tubers back in the garden. Plant cucamelon tubers just an inch or two below the soil surface, making it easy for the thin tendrils to emerge. Gardeners with short growing seasons may want to get a jump start by pre-sprouting the cucamelon tubers indoors in containers several weeks before their last frost date. To do so, simply fill a pot with fresh potting soil, place the cucamelon tubers near the top, and cover them with one to two inches of soil. Maintain damp and warm, and place the container near a sunny window or under a grow light once new vines emerge. Gradually harden off the container of sprouted tubers before transplanting them out into the garden.Grow the rainbow, eat the rainbow!
And that concludes this lesson on how to grow cucamelons.
What do you say? Are you feeling excited to add these interesting and unusual fruit to your summer harvest basket? After reading this article, I hope you feel armed with all the information you need to successfully grow cucamelons… and pickle them too! Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback in the comments below. Also, if you found this article to be valuable, please spread the love by pinning or sharing or this post!
Don’t miss these fun grow guides and related articles:
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- Growing Organic Tomatoes: How to Plant, Prune, Support and Grow Tomatoes
- How to Grow Bushy Basil to Harvest All Summer Long
- How to Grow Bushels of Beans (Bush Beans or Pole Beans)
The post How to Grow Cucamelons: Mexican Sour Gherkins appeared first on Homestead and Chill.
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