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Cucamelon growth and care

Published on September 23rd 2021
A close up of a flower
Few crops capture the interest of heirloom growers like the unusual Mexican gherkin. These semi-tropical climbing perennials produce finger food that you would be hard-pressed to pick up at the local grocery store.
Luckily they are the ideal summer crop for the avid kitchen gardener. Here are some unusual facts and tips on growing these delectable treats at home.

History and uses

Cucamelons, Pepquinos or Sandiita, as they are natively referred to, are one of the few undomesticated species of the cucumber family. Found in the Andes at elevations of 750-1090m between Mexico and Columbia, climbing over other plants for support. First named and published in 1866, the tiny melons have popped up in urban gardens every couple of years with renewed interest.
Cultivation: The “deliberate attempt to sow and manage essentially wild plants and seed”.
Domesticated: When a plant has undergone experimentation of breeding programs to select for a specific growing form.

Cucumber 'Mexican Gherkin'

Melothria scabra

With the advent of new technologies, many companies have sought to analyse the medicinal benefits associated with the slightly sweet fruit and vines. We now know that they contain antioxidants (lycopenes & beta-carotene) as well as several vitamins (Vit C, E, K).
Image by Corey Ryan Hanson from Pixabay.

Growth and Care

These are tropical warm-growing crops that require high temperatures for germination. The initial seedlings are slow to start but, once established, will rapidly expand to form a large mount.
Sowing conditions:
  • Season: Spring with added heat if necessary
  • Temperature: Suggestions vary depending on the supplier, but between 22-27C is best.
  • Soil: Seedling mix, jiffy plugs
  • Sowing depth: 2cm
  • Water: Keep media moist at all times
  • Germination rate: Slow, 3-4 weeks
Growth conditions:
  • Temperature: 18-21C
  • Water: As a tropical vine, it likes a bit of water
  • Sun Aspect: Full sun
  • Soil: Sandy loam
  • pH: Acid, alkaline, neutral
  • Size: 1m wide x 4m height
  • Hardiness: H1C ( minimum temperature 5-10C)
  • Pruning: Not required
  • Companion plants: The vine requires support (trellis) and may outgrow other crops if planted in the same bed.
Image by Corey Ryan Hanson from Pixabay
  • Season: Summer and Autumn
  • Storage: Pickled as with other gherkins
Some Cucamelon growers in the Candide community:

Where to buy

Cucamelons fall within the backyard garden category and as such will not readily grace the shelves of your local garden centre. They will need to be grown from seed, which can be acquired from the following vendors:
(1) Chomicki, G., Schaefer, H., & Renner, S. S. (2020). Origin and domestication of Cucurbitaceae crops: Insights from phylogenies, genomics and archaeology. New Phytologist, 226(5), 1240-1255.
(2) Plants of the World Online. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; Retrieved 20 September 2021

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