Learn how to grow cucamelons, a quirky vegetable with grape-sized fruits that have a cucumber-citrus flavor.

Growing cucamelons in a garden

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What’s the most popular crop in our vegetable garden? Easy! It’s cucamelon. The fruits, which look exactly like tiny watermelons, rarely make it into the kitchen; instead, we gobble them up by the handful, straight from the vines. The plant is a distant relative of cucumbers, and these inch-long fruits do have a cucumber-like flavor with a pleasing citrus tang. Growing cucamelons in garden beds and containers is an easy way to enjoy this unusual vegetable.

This post is an excerpt from Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix © Niki Jabbour. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

Learn how easy it is to grow cucamelons in a garden.

In my zone 5 garden, the cucamelon harvest begins in late July and stretches into late October.

Our family loves trying different kinds of cucumbers. Each summer, our cucumber beds are planted with at least a dozen species and varieties, but few look like “traditional” cucumbers. As you walk the pathways between the beds, you might notice the slender twisted fruits of ‘Painted Serpent’ hiding beneath a mound of foliage, or the weird kiwi-shaped fruits of ‘Little Potato’ climbing an A-frame trellis. You’ll also see some of the more popular heirloom cucumbers, like ‘Lemon’, ‘Crystal Apple’, ‘Boothby’s Blonde’, and ‘Poona Kheera’. And you’ll definitely find one that isn’t related but nonetheless tastes like a cucumber — the cucamelon!

Growing cucamelons – cute & crunchy!

Very rarely, you might find cucamelons at the farmers’ market, but they can fetch up to $20 a pound! The price alone makes it worth growing cucamelons for yourself. They’re an easy crop; the vines are very productive, and they’re rarely troubled by the many insects and diseases that plague cucumbers.

Impatient gardeners will find cucamelons slow to start in the garden, with growth not taking off until the summer weather heats up. That said, they will tolerate a cooler spring better than cucumbers do, and once they’re established, cucamelons are quite a bit more drought tolerant. The vines are delicate looking, with thin stems and small leaves, but don’t be fooled! This is a plant that can hold its own in the garden. People with limited growing space can plant them in large pots on a deck or patio; just be sure to provide something for the vigorous vines to climb.

Growing cucamelons is fun and easy.

Most of our cucamelons are eaten right out of the garden, but we also add them to salads and salsa, and pickle them.

Growing cucamelons – when to harvest?

About a week after you see the first flowers, begin checking for ripe cucamelons. They tend to hide behind the foliage, so look closely. Once they’re about an inch long, start picking. The sourness of the skin intensifies as the fruits age, so pick them young if you want to minimize the citrus bite. We start picking the first fruits in late July or early August, with the last few plucked from the vines in October.

Cucamelons are open-pollinated and produce both male and female flowers on the same plant, so you can save the seed from any ripe fruits that fall to the ground. Warm-climate gardeners will find that a few cucamelons left behind will self-seed quite easily.

There are so many ways to use these fun fruits. As the name suggests, they’re perfect for pickling! We eat them out of hand, pack them in the kids’ lunch boxes, and take them along to picnics and barbecues. You could even pop them into your gin and tonic.

Growing cucamelons – start to finish!

Growing cucamelons is easy! Start the seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last spring frost. Sow the seed in 4-inch pots to give the plants a chance to develop a substantial root system before planting out and to minimize transplant shock. Once the risk of frost has passed, harden off the young plants and move them to the garden.

Gardeners in northern regions with unpredictable late-spring weather may wish to protect young plants with cloches or a mini hoop tunnel. Open the ends of the tunnel during the day to regulate temperature and allow air to circulate. I usually leave the mini tunnel in place for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on how quickly summer arrives, then replace it with a trellis.

Heat, sun, and rich soil are the keys to growing success with these plants, so pick a site with full sun and amend the soil with aged manure or compost.

Cucamelon vines produce a large harvest.

Cucamelon plants are vigorous vines that are best grown up trellises, tunnels, or other supports.

Seriously consider trellising the plants. We grow ours on sturdy A-frame trellises; this keeps the foliage and fruit off the ground, which minimizes the risk of diseases and makes harvesting a snap. Also, unsupported plants will sprawl in every direction, quickly taking over a garden bed.

If you want to save the seeds of heirloom cucumbers and cucumber-like plants, such as burr cucumber, just let a few fruits ripen fully on the vines, or collect any fallen fruits at the end of summer. Scoop out the seeds, which will be surrounded by a gel-like coating, and place them in a container, along with a small amount of water. Leave the mixture to ferment for 3 days (expect mold to form on the surface). The good seeds will sink to the bottom of the container; when this happens, pour off the mold, pulp, and water. Rinse the seeds left at the bottom of the container with fresh water until clean. Spread them on paper towels or a clean dishcloth and let dry for at least a week. Store the fully dried seeds in envelopes.

Cucamelon facts:

A.K.A.: Mexican sour gherkin, mouse melon, Melothria scabra

Days to maturity: 75 days from transplanting

Hails from: Mexico and Central America

Want to learn more about cucamelons? Check out Niki’s post on how to overwinter cucamelon tubers HERE.

To order your copy of Niki’s latest book, Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix, click HERE.

Learn how to grow cucamelons in gardens and containers.







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25 Responses to Growing cucamelons in a garden

  1. How can I grow them now in raised beds in the Pittsburgh area?

  2. Matt says:

    I’m trying to plan out my garden for this year and definitely want to grow cucamelons. How tall are this A-Frames, and how long do the vines get?

    • They can get 8 to 10 feet long. I often use wire a-frame trellises that are 4 by 8 feet. I like to lay them horizontally so that I can easily harvest all the fruits.

  3. Carol says:

    Can I direct sow the seeds into the ground?

    • That depends where you live, but I would only recommend direct sowing in zones for 7 and up. I’m in zone 5B and I cannot direct sow and get a harvest. I start my seeds indoors in mid to late April. – Niki

  4. Janice Benjamin says:

    Can I grow them in containers, if so how big and how deep?

  5. Janice Benjamin says:

    Can I grow them in containers and if so how deep of a pot?

    • Yes! I grow my cucamelons in containers and they did very well. I had one plant per five-gallon container. The vines grow quite tall, so make sure you have a trellis for them to climb.

  6. Marie says:

    Can I grow in the uk?

    • That will depend on your location, but you should be able to in most parts of the UK. Give them plenty of sun and compost. If you have a polytunnel or greenhouse, you might have more success by planting there.

  7. Cheryl says:

    I started my plant in the ground but didn’t really know what it was! Now that I have discovered how cool it is, I’d like to move to a pot on my deck! But it has started to flower. Should I leave it be? Or if I dig around it enough, will it survive moving? Thanks!

    • Hey Cheryl, Cucamelons can get big quick! 🙂 You could move it but the plants do put on a deep root system and likely you would set it back. Especially in the hot weather. If you can, I’d leave it for the season and plan on growing in a pot next year. If you do decide take a chance and move it, be sure to take a very large rootball and water well after. Good luck! 🙂 – Niki

  8. Jools says:

    I live in the UK, south east near London. This is my 2nd year growing cucamelons. Last year was too hot, this year warm with some rain. Nearly all the seeds germinated, so now I have them everywhere! There are fruits forming, fingers crossed. They are very popular in cocktails in London, so I will be v chic!

  9. Can you grow them hydroponically?

    • I haven’t tried it, but I’ve heard that some gardeners do grow them hydroponically. If you’re already set up, it’s worth a try. Good luck, Niki

  10. Arthur says:

    Hi I am in the U.K and this is my first time growing cucamelons. My 2 plants look very healthy with lots of fruit, but they grow to about 1/2 an inch then drop off. I feed them with tomato feed in a greenhouse. I am wondering if I am over watering them.
    any idea’s

    • They are native to Central America and do need well-drained soil. I water mine every 2-3 days in the greenhouse and bi-weekly in the garden. Maybe hold back from watering.. but it’s also possible they are not getting pollinated. Do you have a lot of bees that come into your greenhouse? – Niki

  11. Arwyn says:

    I’ve never heard of it before. Thank you, Nicki!

  12. Sherri says:

    I just walked over to our fence and seen a vine with miniature watermelons on it and googled it…..I’m like wow!!! My father n law had seen them before but didn’t know what they were.
    I’m excited ♥️
    They’ve been growing wild but now I know imma take care of them and see what happens♥️♥️♥️

  13. cam says:

    I start mine in moist paper towel and a ziplock bag on a thermister controlled heated seedling mat. They are a 99% success rate within 3 days, Then i pop 2 in each starter tray pod 🙂
    I notice alot of people having trouble starting them and it can take up to 3 weeks to germinate. This way works almost perfect every time for me

  14. Linda Dempsey says:

    Hi I live in Halifax and I have about 12 transplants started from seed. They are just beginning to send out vining tendrils. I have a trellised wire archway bridging to raised beds about 7 feet high. I am thinking on planting them to vine over the trellis. How far apart should I place my plants? I have them in peat pots but wondering if I should add anything further to my soil?

    • Hi Linda. I would amend your soil as you do for vegetables – compost or manure and some organic fertilizer. And if it’s about a 3 to 4 foot wide arch you could probably put four plants (two per side) on it. Fun! – Niki

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