Cucamelon Harvest Info – Learn How To Harvest A Cucamelon Plant
By: Mary Ellen Ellis
Also called mouse melon, sandita, and Mexican sour gherkin, this fun, diminutive veggie is 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.
Cucamelon Harvest Info
If you have yet to discover and grow cucamelon in your vegetable garden, it’s time to try out these fun little fruits. A cucamelon in Spanish is called a sandita, or little watermelon. Both names describe just what this fruit is like: it looks like a miniature watermelon, and it is a member of the same family as cucumbers.
The cucamelon is small and can be eaten whole and fresh but are also great for pickling. The plant looks a lot like a cucumber plant, and grows similarly. Its vines are delicate and need some kind of support. The flavor of the cucamelon is like a cucumber with a hint of lemon or lime sourness.
When is a Cucamelon Ripe?
Growing these fruits is a great idea, but harvesting cucamelons is not necessarily intuitive. Don’t let the fact that this is a cucumber relative fool you. Cucamelons don’t grow much larger than a grape, so don’t wait for a cucumber-sized fruit to harvest.
Cucamelon picking should be done when the fruits are not much more than an inch (2.5 cm.) in length and still firm to the touch. If you pick them later, they will be very seedy. Cucamelons develop and ripen pretty quickly after the flowers appear, so keep watching your vines daily.
The flowers and fruits should be abundant, but if you want to force more to develop, you can pick some of the fruits earlier and before they are ripe. Expect to get a continuous harvest from your mature plants from mid- to late-summer, and well through the fall.
When it’s done, you can dig up the tuberous roots and store in a cool and dry place over the winter. Replant in the spring, and you’ll get an earlier harvest of cucamelons.
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Cucamelon (Melothria scabra)
Growing Cucamelon from seed. This is a first for me.
I have planted one seed per pot around half an inch deep and put them in the propagator at 20°C.
The Cucamelon fruit is the size of a grape, looks like a melon and tastes like cucumber with a hint of lime.
Cucamelon Update 9 May 2013
It’s now been over 6 weeks since sowing the Cucamelon seed. They certainly did take a long time to germinate. It must have been a good 3 to 4 weeks before a tiny green shoot appeared, however, they are now making steady progress.
I have kept them in the propagator in the greenhouse all this time. Still set on 20°C, but leaving the lid off during the day.
Considering most of the cucumber varieties that were sown at the same time, are now 9″ tall, Cucamelons are definitely slow starters.
Cucamelon Update 23 June May 2013
I potted on the cucamelon into a large terracotta pot about 3 weeks ago. It’s now sat in the corner of my greenhouse and the vine is now about 6 foot tall and seems healthy.
We have about half a dozen flowers and as you can see from the photo above, small fruits are starting to form.
I am watering as I do my tomato plants that are growing alongside it and feed every other day with tomato feed.
Cucamelon Update 20 July 2013
The small cucamelons have just started to swell. They have doubled their size in the last week.
I’m hoping one or two may be ready to try next week.
Cucamelon Update 24 July 2013
Today I picked my first Cucamelon crop. It may only be a small crop, but there are plenty more on the vine, swelling nicely.
The taste is really fantastic. You first get a little hit of citrus, then followed up by a wonderful cucumber flavour.
I can imagine they would be lovely in a gin and tonic!
Cucamelon Update 19 August 2013
The crop just keep on coming. There seems to be no end to the amount of fruit we can pick from our cucamelon vine. As soon as we pick a handful, it seems to be replenished overnight.
You can buy cucamelon seeds in the UK from Sutton Seeds
Cucamelon Picking: When Is A Cucamelon Ripe And Ready To Harvest - garden
Cucamelons, 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. It seems they have only just started to become popular in the U.S. They are quite temperature tolerant, and are not susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases to which cucumber plants are prone. Insects and birds do not bother them. They are about the size of a grape and taste like a citrusy cucumber – the bigger they get the lemonier they taste (the smaller they are the more they taste like cucumbers).
Plant Family: Cucamelons are neither cucumber nor a melon (and the plants will not cross-pollinate with either). They’re in the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae), but they’re a different species altogether - Melothria scabra. The flowers are very small and the native bees love them! Even if you don’t harvest the fruit, they make a great pollinator plant. Like their cucumber cousins, cucamelons are monoecious, meaning male and female flowers both appear on each plant. The male flowers provide the pollen while the female flowers will go on to produce the fruit. As a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, cucamelons should follow root vegetables (i.e., onions, garlic, turnips, beets, radishes) in crop rotation practice.
How to Grow: Cucamelons are slow to germinate and slow to grow. For Spring planting in Zone 6, it’s best to start the seeds indoors, 3-4 weeks before the last expected frost (May 15 in Zone 6). To avoid disturbing the tender roots when you transplant the seedlings into your garden, use biodegradable pots. Plant two to three seeds per pot, ½” deep. Keep the soil moist and warm - around 70 degrees F. It may take 14 days (or more) for the seeds to germinate so be patient! After the seedlings have emerged, thin them to one plant per pot. Three to five weeks after starting (the seedlings should be at least two inches tall), harden them off, and transplant into your garden. Space the plants at least 2 feet apart. It’s good to grow them on a trellis or other type of support for several reasons:
- the vines are very tender and easily injured when moved.
- it’s easier to spot the fruit when harvesting without disturbing the vines.
- it keeps the fruit off the ground where it can rot in humid weather.
Round tomato cages, tomato trellises, or tomato towers work well for cucamelons.
Use mulch to help keep the soil moist and keeps weeds under control - they have shallow roots so the less you need to weed around them, the less there is a chance that you damage the plant when weeding. You will be rewarded with a long harvest until the last days of summer.
Note: The fruit on one plant is plentiful! Don’t plant the entire seed packet, unless you plan to eat a lot of cucamelons!
Container Friendly?: Yes, cucamelons are a good choice for container gardening as long as they are trellised. They are relatively lightweight, even when full of fruit, so there is a low risk of them falling over. Select a large enough container (at least 12-16” in diameter) and fill with a good potting soil mix that contains lots of nutrient rich compost. Space the seedlings around the trellis.
Try This: When the plant is done producing fruit, dig up the tuberous roots and store in a cool and dry place over the winter. Replant in the spring, and you’ll get an earlier harvest of cucamelons.
How to Harvest: Cucamelons are ready to pick when they are the size of olives or small grapes and are still firm. If you pick them later, they will be very seedy. Cucamelons develop and ripen pretty quickly after the flowers appear, so keep watching your vines daily. The flowers and fruits should be abundant, but if you want to force more to develop, you can pick some of the fruits earlier and before they are ripe. Expect to get a continuous harvest from your mature plants from mid- to late-summer, and well through the fall.
Common Varieties: Cucamelons are often found in the specialty cucumber section of popular seed catalogs (eg., Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Territorial Seed Company). Look for Mexican Sour Gherkin – a single variety.
Recipes: Cucamelons are delicious eaten plain or tossed in a salad. Chop them up and throw them into salsa or gazpacho. Pickle them as you would any cucumber. Consider using the pickled cucamelons in place of cocktail onions as a martini garnish. Other recipes can be found here:
- Pickled Cucamelon (Mexican Sour Gherkin) (courtesy of food.com)
- Cucamelon Refrigerator Pickles (courtesy of loveandoliveoil.com)
- Mouse Melon Soup (courtesy of groweat.blogspot.com)
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Cucamelons are a member of the cucumber family, Cucurbitaceae. However, cucamelons and cucumbers are members of different genuses, so they are not the same. While cucumbers are members of the genus Cucumis, cucamelons are members of the genus Melothria. As such, their growing characteristics, requirements and potential pests are also different.
The fruits really do look like tiny watermelons. Their delicate vines and tiny leaves remind me of a miniature garden. If you haven’t seen them before, the first developing fruits will come as a delightful surprise. Fruits develop to the size of a grape, approximately 3 cm long by 2 cm wide (1.25 inch long by 0.8 inches wide). Their flavour resembles a cucumber, however they have a lemony finish. Their skin is thin, yet firm and their interior is juicy. Vines grow slowly from seedling stage, but once established will accelerate quickly and may grow to 10 feet long.
Cucamelons (Melothria scabra) are an exciting addition to a vegetable garden. Since they are different than cucumbers, they have their own benefits to growing them.
Why You Should Add Cucamelons to Your Garden
My 6 Reasons:
- Drought tolerant and disease and pest-resistant – Compared to cucumbers, cucamelons have far fewer pests, and are susceptible to very few diseases. Unlike cucumbers, cucamelons are resistant to powdery mildew! This is a huge plus for growers that have been plagued with it when growing cucumbers. In addition, cucamelons aren’t affected by cucumber beetles, squash borers or even rodents.
Cucamelon has a tuberous root and is very efficient at storing water. The older the plant gets, the larger the tuber becomes. Historically, cucamelons originated from Mexico and Central America. If they were able to withstand the drought-filled and dry conditions of their native homes, they should have a higher likelihood of surviving dry conditions elsewhere.
- Hardier than cucumbers – Cucamelons are more cold tolerant than cucumbers. Once the weather cools off and rains begin to fall, cucamelons will continue to produce fruit. Unlike cucumber plants, which are more sensitive to wet and cold. In some cases, this may be several weeks longer than a cucumber plant’s lifespan.
5 Steps to Growing Cucamelons
Here are my steps:
- Start your cucamelon seeds indoors, approximately 4 weeks prior to the final spring frost date. To know the best date for transplanting out your cucamelon seedlings, please refer to my Outdoor Planting Calculator.
- Sow seeds 1/2 an inch deep or at the depth of double the seed size.
- Keep the seedlings evenly moist and don’t allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Seedlings are very small and fine and won’t recover if allowed to dry out completely. In the same token, don’t overwater your seedlings. Soggy soil may cause fungus knats, mold or other problems.
- Plant out seedlings after all risk of frost has passed. I prefer to space my seedlings fairly close together, around 3 to 4 inches apart. Cucamelon plants don’t require much distance between them.
- Choose a full sun location, with good quality, well draining soil. Cucamelons will also grow successfully in a pot. If planting in a pot, plant your seedlings around the perimeter, spaced 3 to 4 inches apart.
- Cucamelons grow best up a trellis or support and are easier to find when harvesting. Be sure to provide your plants with a support structure, allowing them to climb and wrap their tiny tendrils around it. If cucamelons are planted in a pot, use a bamboo structure or tomato cage for support.
When to Harvest?
- Cucamelons are ready for harvest when fruits are the size of a grape. You will see as you begin to harvest them, that ripe cucamelons have broader shoulders and a deeper colour. Unripe cucamelons are narrow and short. If uncertain, experiment by harvesting your fruit at different stages. You’ll quickly decide at which stage you prefer to eat them.
- Be sure to harvest frequently, in order to encourage more fruit production.
Additional Harvesting Tip:
Cucamelon fruit are very small, often hanging behind a cucamelon leaf. Simply running your hand along the foliage will help to locate any inconspicuous fruit.
A Surprising Trick!
As I mentioned previously, cucamelon plants develop a tuberous root. This is contrary to cucumbers, which produce a long, thick taproot, followed by many branching roots. These roots die at the end of the season and may be composted. There is no life left in them after the plant dies.
The advantage of a cucamelon’s tuber is the ability to pull it up at the end of the season and store it indoors, in a cool, dark place. If stored properly, the tuber may be planted out again the following year, approximately 1 week before the final frost date. By regrowing your cucamelons from the original tuber, you will essentially produce a larger plant, which will take less time to establish. The plant will grow faster and produce fruit, much earlier than first year seedlings.
There is one caveat to this method. Tubers must be pulled up gently, without damage. If damage takes place, the tuber may not survive storage. The most effective method for overwintering tubers is to grow your seedlings in large pots. At the end of the season, simply bring your pots indoors and store them in a frost-free, dark and cool location. The following year, bring your pots outside a week before the final frost date, water them and they should start growing anew.
Growing cucamelons couldn’t be simpler. Other than proper staking, they require very little work. Cucamelons need little water after establishing and are perfect in drought-like conditions. They have few pests, are affected by few, if any diseases and predators leave them alone. They have an eye-catching and beautiful appearance and a delicious flavour. I highly recommend adding them to your vegetable garden plans. Since I began growing them, they are a definite “must grow” for me!
Posted on September 4, 2014 by Suttons in Free Recipes, General, In the Veg Patch, Vegetable Growing
Judging by the emails and photos we’ve been receiving our customers have clearly had some fun growing cucamelons this year and are now well and truly reaping the harvest.
Looking like minature watermelons cucamelons are also known as “mouse melons”. Their refreshing cucumber mixed with lime flavour will have seen them popped into many a cocktail over the glorious summer we’ve expereinced but what to do with them now? Certainly they don’t seem to know when to stop fruiting and deliver a constant stream of cute little mouse melons.
Cucamelons are ready to harvest when firm and about the size of a grape. Carefully remove them from the vine and put them in the fridge where they’ll be fine for up to about 10 days.
James Wong’s inspiring book – Homegrown Revolution – has plenty of suggestions as to how to enjoy your Cucamelon harvest. They can be eaten in the same way as a standard cucumber, sliced, chopped or left whole and added to a salad. Cucamelons can be added to salsas, served as a nibble amongst a dish of olives or simply just enjoyed straight from the vine.
For those of us with a bumber harvest how about taking James Wong’s advise and pickling some cucamelon so that they can be a taste of summer on a cold winter’s day?
Pickled cucamelon with dill & mint
You will need:
250g cucamelons – washed and drained
375ml white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp dill – chopped
1 tbsp mint – chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 fresh oak or grapevine leaf
Pour the vinegar into a bowl with the salt and sugar and whisk until they’ve dissolved. Stir in the herbs.
Pop the cucumbers into a sterilised 500ml jar. Scrunch up the leaf and place it on top of the cucamelons. The tanins in the leaf will help to keep the cucamelons crisp.
Pour the vinegar into the jar, seal tightly and place in the fridge. Your pickled cucamelons will be ready after 2-weeks.
If you live in a mild area your cucamelons may well survive the winter to give you another harvest next year. Simply apply a good mulch of thick straw as protection. Alternatively lift a swollen radish-like root and store over winter in compost in a frost free place.
Cucamelons also are great as a sharing food, mix with olives and some peppers, don’t they look great?
Click to buy the Cucamelon Seeds from Suttons