Digging and overwintering cucamelon tubers results in an earlier crop.

How to Overwinter Cucamelon Tubers

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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.

Related Post: Growing Cucumbers Vertically

Overwintering cucamelon tubers gives you a head start on the growing season.

Cucamelons are easy to grow and have a delicious cucumber flavor with a hint of citrus.

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.

Related Post: Unusual Cucumbers to Grow

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?

Learn how to lift & overwinter cucamelon tubers.

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15 Responses to How to Overwinter Cucamelon Tubers

  1. Gary Kenny says:

    I tried a few cucamelons this year, grown indoors from seed, but they didn’t do well. Possibly because of the excessive rainfall we had this year in southern Ontario. I look forward to realizing a robust crop next year and overwintering the tubers.

  2. Gayle MacLean says:

    Tried to grow them last year from heritage seeds. They need a greenhouse environment, seriously…in my opinion…mine did not do well at all…won’t bother again…

    • Holly King says:

      We have many plants in our field. They are staked with twine running between. We live in southern Ontario. Seeds are started inside then moved outdoors. Have just finished our 5th growing season. Very plentiful this year. Probably harvested 200-300 lbs.

  3. Joan says:

    Put two plants in my container garden this summer and am still harvesting them! I had no idea they are tubers. I live in zone 9, so will mulch over winter and start again in spring, thanks!

  4. Marilyn says:

    I grew some in a large pot…more as a novelty item to impress the grandkids. They look like fairy melons…and make a nice garnish on quinoa salad. I dug all around the pot but could not find any tubers. Will try again next year….!

  5. Billie says:

    I just planted some cucamelon seeds for the first time – didn’t know they had tubers! Great post 🙂

  6. David Chapman says:

    I planted 4 plants in all (3 in containers) and enjoyed a bountiful crop, more than enough for two persons. I had no trouble starting them from seed, but transplanted them outside too early—the survived but did not flourish until the weather hit good and hit. I’m going to try overwintering tubers!

  7. Johanna says:

    I was having great success with the Cucamelons trellised in my high tunnels, and just as I finally was about to have a decent yeild, last night the plants were compromised by a frost we didn’t anticipate to do so much damage in the tunnels. The tunnels will eventually be heated, with the intention of maintaining 60 or so degrees, but at this point should I allow the plants to die back and dig for tubers? Or let them stay in the raised beds to overwinter? Thanks!

    • Great question! I haven’t tried to overwinter my tubers under protection as our winters are too cold. I think if you maintained a temp of 60 F you should be fine to leave the tubers in the ground. – Niki

  8. I just finished a marvelous crop of Cucamelons. Just now, I tried digging out the tubers and got 7 or so in various condition – some got broken by my energetic digging. oooops.

    I have heard that in Mexico, there are often bowls of cucamelons at the bars instead of say, beer nuts. This is a much healthier treat and it’s a little salty so I can understand the reasoning.

    This year, I will try your over-wintering method and come spring, I hope to begin to put them all along the fence. Last night we had a crystally frost so it was time to pull the dead vines. Today is the second day of lunar winter (Australian winter is june first for some silly reason).

  9. Kathy Kincer says:

    I started some cucamelons from seed and once they sprouted I planted 3 in a 3 gallon pot. I used bamboo sticks and made a little trellis for them to climb. They did pretty well. I harvested several handfuls and even made a couple jars of refrigerator pickles! I saved some seeds but am hopeful to have tubers when I cut back the plants. I just don’t know where to store them. I live in an apartment and have a garage, but it isn’t heated and I live in Illinois where the winters can be brutal. Can I store say in a closet or under the sink??? Would that be too warm???

    • Hi Kathy, I’m so glad you enjoyed growing cucamelons! And unfortunately, it would be too warm under a sink.. I aim for a temp above freezing but below 45 F. Since you saved seeds, I would just start some again next spring indoors and then move the seedings to your deck when the weather has warmed up 🙂 – Niki

  10. Tina Jackson says:

    Really enjoyed growing cucamelons. will safe seeds and tubers but what happens if green house cosy enough that they dont die back. Would they still keep growing, albeit slowly in winter and would they then be too exhausted to produce fruit the next summer? Thanks Tina

    • Hey Tina, Good question! Yes, they should keep growing as long as you continue to water and fertilize them. Depending on where you are, the shrinking day-length may be an issue. In the garden, they require at least 10 hours of direct sun to grow and produce well and when we have shorter days in fall and winter, there likely isn’t enough light to encourage healthy growth. You could use supplemental lighting if you like though. Good luck! Niki

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