Have you heard about cucamelons? Don’t worry – we weren’t aware of this unusual fruit until recently as well. Apparently, this fruit has become all the rage in the last year and it’s all thanks to its health benefits.
Cucamelons, also known as sandiita in Spanish, is a small fruit that resembles a watermelon. The size is the main reason why it’s popularly called “mouse melon” all around the world. Cucamelons grow the size of a grape and have a taste that resembles a mixture of cucumber and lime. The sour fruit grows on a vine and has ivy-like leaves, and although most people think they’re a genetically modified hybrid, they are not – cucamelons have been eaten in South American since pre-Columbian times.
Health Benefits of Cucamelons
Just because cucamelons are small doesn’t mean their nutritional value is low, in fact, they’re said to be on their way to becoming the next trendy superfood, abundant in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and fiber, while also being low in calories. Their rich nutrients are said to help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer as well as to guard against premature aging by helping to protect and rejuvenate the body’s cells, tissues, and organs.
Melons like these contain a high level of lycopene, a carotenoid known to improve cardiac functioning, as well as beta-carotene, known for its remarkable antioxidant and anti-aging properties that help prevent age-related cardiac conditions and much more. The combination of nutrients like vitamin C, potassium and carotenoids, help to lower bad cholesterol levels, providing further protection to your heart and cardiovascular system. Its phytonutrients also support proper functioning of the eyes and just about every internal organ.
Why You Really Need To Grow Cucamelons
In addition to their powerful nutritional benefits, this adorable, tasty fruit is just something you’ve got to try. Unfortunately, your local grocery store or farmers market likely stocks things like watermelons and maybe even round, yellowish lemon cucumbers, but the odds of it offering cucamelons is pretty slim. That’s why growing them in your garden is the best way to go. You can enjoy them anytime you like and have fun experimenting with them in all sorts of recipes too.
This exotic plant can be a great part of your garden – they’re one of the easiest plants to grow as they suffer from very few pests, don’t require fancy pruning or need the cover of a greenhouse. Cucamelons are very drought resistant, even more so than cucumbers. While they’re well-known in Mexico and throughout Central America, they can be found growing wild in some Southern U.S. locations, though you can grow them pretty much anywhere, just like its relative, the cucumber.
11 Steps To Growing Perfect Cucamelons
1. Purchase the seeds
As cucamelon seeds aren’t exactly easy to find, you’re unlikely to be able to buy them at places like your local co-op or home improvement store. Your best bet is online – you shouldn’t have to pay much more than you would for any other type of seed. Popular seed sites like Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Co. offer 100 seeds for just $1.99 currently, and you can even find from this page on Amazon.
Of courses, prices can change at the drop of a hat, and sites come and go, but simply doing a Google search on cucamelon seeds will allow you to find the best price for the highest quality seeds. Keep in mind that the crops that will do best in your garden are those grown with high-quality seeds that have been carefully maintained and that match your growing conditions. Where organic or chemical-free is offered, buy it. In most cases, you’ll get what you pay for.
Since the seeds are not easy to come by, when you have established plants and fruits, be sure to save some of the seeds. All you have to do is pick up a ripe fruit that’s fallen to the ground and place it somewhere cool. In about two weeks, you can slice it open and scoop out the seeds. Keep your seeds in a jar filled with water for a week, and then rinse them and allow them to dry on paper towels in a cool spot. Once dry, store them in a paper envelope.
2. Climate considerations
Cucamelons are grown as annual vegetables in most areas, although they are technically perennials like tomatoes. They require a long growing season with at least 65 to 75 days of warm, frost-free weather and soil temperatures that are between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit to bear fruit. If you live in a cooler area, you can grown them in pots and move them indoors to a bright, warm room when nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees.
3. Start cucamelons indoors
Cucamelons are best started indoors, about the same time you’d start seedlings for cucumbers, in April or May. While they can be planted directly into the ground after danger of frost has passed, it’s best to start them indoors and then transplant them outside after all danger is gone. Another option is to plant one seed in each pot, about a half-inch deep, and place them in a greenhouse at temperatures around 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Have patience, cucamelons are slow starters, especially when compared to growing cucumbers. They need more time to germinate, and it can take as long as three or four weeks before you start to see those little green shoots appear.
4. Choose your planting location
Cucamelons like full sun and rich, fast-draining soil. Choose a growing site that gets full southern exposure, and allow at least 12-square-inches of space for every plant. At least six hours of direct sunlight are required on a daily basis to keep your plants healthy and productive. The more sunlight, the better off they’ll be.
5. Install a wire cage or trellis
As their vines can climb up to 10 feet, cucamelons need a good structure to keep the stems and fruit off the ground. Install a trellis or cage on which they can grow on, and you will be surrounded by their beautiful vines.
6. The right soil
Like most fruits, cucamelons need a lot of nutrition and good soil drainage. The soil should contain compost or aged manure to keep the fruit nourished, and add a tablespoon of 6-10-10 fertilizer as well in each hole for the plant to boost the quality of the soil. Adding perlite or lava rocks will improve the drainage. Once you establish the nutrition, cucamelons don’t need nothing else than 3-inch side-dressing of compost each month.
In order for your cucamelons to grow, you’ll need a steady supply of water. An inch of water 5-7 days in the summer is required on the top 6-15 inches of the soil. When it’s very hot, add water to the soil twice a week. If you live in a foggy and cold area, monitor the soil during periods that lack sun. Add water in the top inch of the soil if it dries out. During the summer, it’s a good idea to put 3-4 inch layers of mulch around the plants in order to protect them from invaders and regulate moisture.
8. Pest issues and re-seeding
Besides being tolerant to rough conditions, cucamelons are also ignored by most pests. The plants reseed on their own, so they’re an excellent addition to a permaculture garden of food forest.
9. Training the growing vines
Wrap the vines around the trellis in any way you want as they tend to grow in most directions.
10. Harvesting your cucamelons
Once flowering has begun, those little cucamelon fruits won’t be far behind. Harvest the fruit when they have reached a nice plump size, about the size of a grape, nice and firm, and about one to one and half inches in length. Pick the first few at a somewhat earlier stage to force more fruit production.
After pollination, it takes about 2-3 weeks for the cucamelon fruit to reach a harvestable size. Harvest your cucamelons by simply picking them off without ripping the plant apart. If in doubt use a pair of small scissors. If you harvest carefully, they should keep growing for quite a while, and you should have a bountiful crop from July to about mid-November.
If you are new to this and grow them from seed, don’t expect a very large plant in the first year. A plant grown from a tuber will grow at a much higher pace than a seedling, but you should still expect several handfuls of fruit from one plant in its first year. Be sure to avoid disturbing the tubers when cutting out foliage during the fall. They’ll stay underground and wait for the heat of next spring.
As we mentioned, there is no fancy pruning needed, but you will need to do some pruning because as the season progresses, the vines eventually create a thick mass of foliage on the trellis. When that starts to happen, some of the leaves will become choked off from sunlight and will begin to yellow. Trim off any dying leaves.