Now here is a designer vegetable that is easy to grow and nutritious. Children will be enchanted with the cucamelon that looks like a tiny watermelon just a little larger than the first joint of a finger – around ½ to 1 inch long.
They taste like a cucumber with a hint of lime/lemon and have crisp white flesh. The bonus for survivalists is that they are easy to grow, prolific and can be incorporated into a secret survival garden.
Good to know
- They are not genetically modified – in fact the Aztecs grew the cucamelon. They have been known in Mesoamerica for hundreds of years, but only in the past few years has the plant been catching on with survivalists looking for alternate and hardy vegetables and by people wanting designer vegetables.
- The Cucamelon goes by various names: Mexican sour gherkin, Mouse Melon, Sandita (Spanish for little watermelon) and the botanical name Melothria scabra. Remember all these names when searching through seed catalogues as different companies list them under different names.
- They take up very little space. They can be planted 6 inches to 12 inches apart, grow around 6 inches wide, climb to heights of around 4 to 6 feet and are prolific bearers.
- They are pretty hardy to pests – and if a pest gets one, because there are so many on the vine, you will be bound to get plenty of other perfect ones.
- They act as pollinators – butterflies, bees and birds are attracted to the bright yellow flowers.
- They can be grown from seed – so make sure to store some seed from your first crop. In certain favorable conditions they make tubers, which can be stored over the winter and planted out the next year. Either take them out of the soil if they are outside in cold region and store them, or if in a container cut down the plant close to the base and cover with straw.
Watch this video for tips on growing your cucamelons:
Where to obtain seeds
In the US seed is available from the following suppliers:
Rare Seeds – Mansfield Missouri
Check under Vegetables, then cucumbers, scroll down till you find Mexican Sour gherkin. There are between 25 to 35 seeds in a pack and they cost $2.75
Terrior Seeds – Chino Valley Arizona
Here they are listed under Heirloom vegetables – go to Cucumbers and you will find them listed as Cucamelon/Mouse Melon. Seeds are $4 a packet. The number of seeds per packet was not given.
Select Seeds – Union, Connecticut
Listed as Mexican sour gherkin – 53 seeds per packet at $2.99
Amazon On Amazon, if you type in Mexican Sour Gherkin, a whole lot of suppliers will come up – the prices vary from $1.57 to $5.70 – just check the number of seeds they supply per packet.
They are available in the UK from Sutton Seeds. Sutton Seeds do not ship to the US. As a matter of interest, the plant does not belong to the cucumber family – but was placed there for convenience.
Planting and Pollination
Plant them 6 inches or so apart as you would cucumbers – 4 to 6 seeds in a small circle, placed with the radicle downward or on their side about ½ an inch below the surface in moist rich loamy soil.
All seeds are geotropic – meaning the root grows downward to follow the pull of gravity while the shoot will grow away from the pull of gravity. If you plant a seed with the radicle – that’s usually the pointy bit where it was attached to the parent plant – facing upwards the seed has to waste some its energy to re-orient itself and change direction to follow gravity. If planted with the radicle facing downward it can simply get on quickly with growing or if on its side only has to make a 90-degree turn.
Most people find cucamelons germinate fairly easily and in 5 to 7 days they should be popping out of the ground and it will take around 70 to 75 days to harvesting.
They can be supported on a trellis or simply three canes wigwam style, or left to grow up other supporting plants in your guild plantings. Since the foliage is attractive they can be grown in containers with a central wire cylinder placed upright in the container for them to grow around. When grown in containers it may be necessary to pinch back shorts to encourage a bushier formation, but if in a food forest can be left to grow unchecked – they are light so won’t weigh other plants down.
The plant produces both male and female flowers, which are yellow, less than ¼ of an inch in diameter and require pollination – but bees and other insects will do this for you. The cucamelons form on the female flowers.
When to plant
Sow direct in warmer regions in the US from April to May, in cooler regions start indoors or in a green house to plant out later after danger of frost is past.
Plant in full sun in rich well drained soil – do not over-water. The soil should be moist to a depth of around 3 inches. Rather water properly less frequently than light watering daily. Make sure there is mulch around the plants to conserve moisture.
Cucamelons are drought tolerant. People who have grown them in high light and heat conditions report good yields – but even when grown in cooler climates they yield well and they are more cold tolerant that ordinary cucumbers.
They have been grown in Zones 4B, 5A, 6A, &B and 8A with success – they may be fine in other zones too – we just haven’t seen reports from growers in those zones.
Seeds can be saved from the very ripe cucamelons that have fallen off the vine – don’t try to save seed from ‘just ripe’ ones you have picked – they most likely won’t germinate.
Beetles can be nuisance – you might need to collect some spiders from other areas to release on the plants to control the beetles, generally though the plants are pretty tough.
The cucamelons are low in calories and contain no fat, so they are great for snacking on when you feel puckish. They are also rich in vitamin and fiber as well as minerals.
Check here (http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/generic-mexican-sour-gherkins-371037709?v2=false) for the Myfitnesspal app nutritional information on cucamelons (they list them as Mexican Sour Gherkins)
Enjoying your harvest
Most times, cucamelons are eaten off the vine as people wander through the forest garden snacking. They are usually eaten fresh in salads – simply slice in half. Some people don’t like that the skin is thicker than that of a normal cucumber but most savor the sweet tangy taste with the citrus hint once you are through the rind.
For fussy types I would slice them in tiny circles so there is less rind for them to contend with – a bit more work – but heck if it makes your visitors happy… Pop one into a martini glass instead of an olive, add to stir fries, stews and salsas or pickle them.
Recipe for Pickled Cucamelons
3 pounds of cucamelons
2 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons pickling salt (I use Himalayan salt) Pickling salt should be without anti-caking agents and iodine additives.
5-6 red peppercorns (for color – you can use black peppercorns)
1 small dry red chili chopped up (for color and flavor)
dill fronds and 1 teaspoon dill seeds
4 cloves of garlic, bruised to let the flavor escape but not mashed up – it must retain the clove shape. Feel free to add more if you are a fan of garlic.
Select your cucamelons – check for any blemishes and firmness –you don’t want any soft or withered ones, as they won’t be crunchy.
If you are planning or refrigerating an eating your pickles within a week or two it isn’t necessary to sterilize the bottles and lids by boiling them. Simply washing with very hot water will be fine. If planning on keeping the pickles on a shelf and storing for a few months then you need to sterilize jars, lids and process the bottles of pickles once sealed in their jars in boiling water for 5 minutes.
Select the number of jars and divide the cucamelons among them packing them fairly tightly without bruising or squashing them.
Divide the spices between the jars – whatever you have decided to use chili, garlic, peppercorns, dill seed and dill fronds.
Bring the vinegar and water with the salt to a fast boil on the stove.
Carefully pour the boiling liquid over the contents of the jars filling them to close to the top.
When you have done all the jars tap them gently to get rid of any air bubbles and top up if needed as the liquid may have worked its way down in the gaps between the cucamelons after your initial filling of the jars.
Screw on the lids. If you opted for shelf storage then this is when the 5-minute boiling water step after bottling takes place.
Wait for bottles to cool before adding a label with the date they were packed and storing in the refrigerator. If you hot processed them then store on a shelf, away from light and heat.
Enjoy the pickles with drinks or on sandwiches.
Traveler, photographer, writer. I’m eternally curious, in love with the natural world. How people can survive in harmony with nature has fueled my food safety and survival gardening practices.
At the age of 12, I found a newspaper advertisement for a 155-acre farm at a really good price and showed my parents one Sunday morning. They bought it and I happily started planting vegetables, peanuts, maize and keeping bees with the help of the local labor. Once I married wherever we moved it was all about planting food, keeping chickens and ducks, permaculture and creating micro-climates. I learned how to build wooden cabins and outdoor furniture from pallets, and baked and cooked home-grown produce, developing recipes as I went along.
Over the years on numerous trips to wild places and cities I’ve learned all sorts of survival hacks, but there is always someone out there who can teach you a new trick so I remain an eternal student and forever humble.