Cucamelon Magic: Koo Koo Ka Choo

A handful of tiny cucamelons

Anyone remember the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids?

Well, imagine doing that to a watermelon. Yes, cucamelons look like shrunken watermelons. In fact, cucamelons are almost small enough to wear as a charm on a Pandora bracelet.

But cucamelons are more than cute. You could also think of them as giant vitamins. They are a rich source of fiber, minerals and vitamins K, E and C. Studies show that cucamelons are also loaded with lycopenes, an important antioxidant for good heart health. The beta carotene in cucamelons helps keep skin young and promotes eye health.

However, it should be pointed out that while cucamelons may look like watermelons, they don’t taste like them. The taste is closer to that of a cucumber, with a touch of lemon added.

The fact that cucamelons taste like cucumbers shouldn’t be too surprising. Cucamelons are a member of the cucumber family, Cucurbitaceae, but belong to different genuses, so they are not the same.

While cucumbers are members of the genus Cucumis, cucamelons are members of the genus Melothria. As such, their growing characteristics, requirements and potential pests are also different.

Growing cucamelons in home gardens has become so trendy over the past couple of years that more and more nurseries are stocking both the transplants and seeds.

And it’s no wonder cucamelons are so popular. Besides being adorable, tasty and healthful, cucamelons (like cucumbers) are pretty easy to grow. The biggest problem is finding all of them at harvest time, since they have a tendency to hide behind broad leaves on meandering vines similar to what cucumbers produce.

How To Grow Cucamelons

Cucamelons need little water after establishing, and are perfect in drought-like conditions. They have few pests and are affected by few, if any diseases. Additionally, predators leave them alone. 

However, cucamelons do not tolerate cold winter temperatures, although if you live in a colder zone you can always just regrow them during the warmer months. In zones 7 to 10 it’s best to mulch the plants during winter. They should then go dormant and come back in the same location the following year.

Despite their burgeoning fame, you are still more likely to find cucamelon seeds rather than transplants. Here is how you grow them from seed:

Step 1: Start your cucamelon seeds indoors, approximately four weeks before the final spring frost date if you live in a colder zone. After planting the cucamelon seeds, place the pots or trays in a sunny window or beneath grow lights. Grow lights usually produce stronger, stockier seedlings. Don’t let the soil dry out or get soggy.

Step 2: Plant out seedlings after all risk of frost has passed. Space seedlings fairly close together, around 3 to 4 inches apart. Cucamelon plants don’t require much distance between them.

Exposure and Soil – Plant in a sunny location in soil that drains well. Some people like to dig a few inches of compost or aged manure into the soil. Carefully pop the plant out of its pot into the prepared spot, firming the soil gently around the roots. Water well after planting.

Container Factor – Prefer to grow your cucamelons in pots?  Just be sure to plant the seedlings around the perimeter spaced 3 to 4 inches apart.

Water – After they are established, cucamelon plants require little in the way of watering unless there is a drought or you live in a dry, hot desert.

Feeding – This is optional, however, you will have greater production by applying an all-purpose liquid organic fertilizer every few weeks.

Step 3: You will find that cucamelon vines grow best with support. So provide your cucamelons with a trellis or some other means of support. Train the vines up the support structure allowing plants to wrap their tiny tendrils around it. For cucamelons planted in a pot, you can use a bamboo structure or tomato cage for support.

Step 4: It’s time to harvest your cucamelons when fruits are the size of a grape. You will see as you begin to harvest them, that ripe cucamelons have broader shoulders and a deeper color. Unripe cucamelons are narrow and short. If uncertain, experiment by harvesting your fruit at different stages. You’ll quickly decide at which stage you prefer to eat them.

Harvest frequently to encourage extended fruit production.

Cucamelons can be eaten fresh from the garden, served in sandwiches or wraps or added to salads and stir-fry. Some people even like to pickle them. Here’s how.