Although I have heard a lot about cucamelons, I have not grown them until this summer. Earlier this year, Burpee sent two small plants in containers, which they labeled “Mexican sour gherkin cucumber.” In fact, this type of cucumber has a variety of common names: cucamelons, Mexican sour gherkins, mouse melons, pepquinos, sandita, and Mexican miniature watermelons. The Latin name is Melathria scabra and they truly are in the cucumber family.
Cucamelons are vining, perennial plants that produce small, inch-long fruit. The fruit can be eaten raw, or pickled just like cucumbers. Native to Mexico and central America, cucamelons prefer the summer’s warmth.
They are a novelty; you may not see the plants in local nurseries just yet. However, they are easy to grow from seed, just think tomatoes (Burpee sells the seeds). Start the seed indoors under lights like tomato seeds and move out to the garden after danger of frost has passed. Like cucumber plants, they produce vines but these are very slender vines reaching up to 7 or 10 feet. I have mine growing on an A-frame trellis about 4 feet tall and wide and the two plants have covered one side, climbed over the other side, and are now running across the ground. Because the vines are slender (and not spiny) they are easy to pick up and drape over the frame. The plant is much more robust than regular cucumbers, they certainly are more disease resistant.
I grow other cucumbers as well and by July they have diseased foliage and the plants just peter out. The cucamelons are going strong in July despite Virginia’s heat and humidity. They remind me of the year I grew lemon cucumbers. Lemon cucumbers are just as robust, the vines took over the deck, but they had no disease problems.
Cucamelons produce small yellow flowers and green/white variegated fruit, exactly like a miniature watermelon. They taste like a cucumber but not as juicy or as cool and refreshing. We eat them raw as a snack. They can be added to a green salad, cold pasta salad, or a rice salad. They can be pickled or used to make a relish. I have seen them used in cocktails as a garnish.
If I had known these vines would be so healthy, I would have placed them on my new privacy fence. They can serve double duty, covering a screen or fence and producing edible fruit. They would be great for children’s teepees or small hideaway places as long as the children are not too young. Because cucamelons are so small they can be a choking hazard for very young children. Although they can be grown in containers, they would still need a trellis system.
Because the fruit’s coloring does not change as it matures, sometimes it is hard to tell when to pick them. The mature size is the size of a large grape, and should be a little tender. When you squeeze, it should give a little. If it is hard and does not give, it is overripe and may taste bitter. But these can be used for pickling. It is best to harvest early and often.
I highly recommend planting cucamelons. These cucumber-like plants are easy to grow, disease resistant, and very productive. They produce such cute little fruit, both child and adult will be enchanted.