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Cucamelons are the most popular crop in our vegetable garden with the long, slender vines yielding hundreds of grape-sized fruits that resemble tiny watermelons. Hence, their other name, ‘mouse melons’, or as they’re better known, Mexican Sour Gherkins. Most gardeners start their cucamelon plants from seed sown indoors in mid-spring, but the plants also produce tubers that can be lifted and stored over the winter. Growing cucamelons from tubers gives you a head start on the spring growing season, and results in an earlier and larger harvest.
Cucumelons are native to Mexico and Central America and are open-pollinated, so you can save the seeds from year to year. But, as mentioned above, you can also save the tubers in late autumn by digging and storing them as you would a dahlia. The fleshy tubers grow 4 to 6 inches long, are white to beige in color, and each plant can yield several good-sized tubers.
Gardeners in zones 7 and up, can deep mulch their plants in autumn with a foot deep layer of shredded leaves or straw to overwinter them. In my cold climate garden, where the frost goes deep into the soil, cucamelons do not overwinter and I need to grow them from seed each spring or save the tubers.
Digging Cucamelon Tubers:
Digging cucamelon tubers is easy. Once the plants have been hit by frost a few times, it’s time to dig them up. The fibrous root ball will be in the top foot of soil, but the tubers can extend a bit deeper. Don’t try to harvest the tubers by pulling the plants out. In my experience, this has resulted in damaged or broken tubers, which will not overwinter.
Instead, place a garden fork or shovel about a foot away from the main stem and dig, gently lifting to expose any tubers. Don’t see any? Dig deeper or use your hand to move the soil out of the hole to locate the tubers. Handle just-harvested tubers carefully to avoid bruising or damage. There’s also no need to wash them off as the tubers will be stored in soil.
Once you’ve gathered all the tubers, it’s time to store them. I use a 15 inch diameter plastic pot and a high-quality, pre-moistened potting soil. Add about 3 inches of soil to the bottom of the pot, and place a few tubers on the soil surface. Space them so that they do not touch. Add another layer of soil and more tubers, continuing to layer until you have no more tubers left. Be sure to sure to cover the last layer with a few inches of soil. Store the pot in a cool, frost-free spot for winter; an unheated basement, a modestly heated garage, or a root cellar.
Small-space and container gardeners who grow cucamelons in pots can also overwinter their plants. Just snip off the dead foliage and store the pot in a cool, frost-free area for winter. Come spring, the tubers can be removed from the pot and replanted in fresh containers.
Planting Cucamelon Tubers:
It’s time to re-plant the tubers in early April, or about eight weeks before the last expected spring frost. Gather your supplies; eight to ten inch diameter containers and high-quality potting soil. Fill each pot about two-thirds full with the pre-moistened soil. Place a tuber on the surface of the potting soil, and cover with another inch of the soil. Water well and move the pots to a sunny window or place them under grow-lights. Continue to water when necessary and fertilize with a balanced liquid organic food every few weeks.
Once the risk of frost has passed, harden off the plants and transplant them into the garden or in larger containers for deck growing. Cucamelons appreciate a sunny, sheltered site with compost-enriched soil.
Do you overwinter your cucamelon tubers?