This article was originally published by Mike and Dorothy McKenney on www.dengarden.com
If you’re looking for something interesting to grow, check out cucamelons! They look like miniature watermelons but are about the same size as grapes (approximately 1–2 inches long). They have green skin adorned with lighter, irregular, or striped patterns and offer a crisp texture. However, looking like a tiny watermelon is where the similarity ends. They are mildly tart and zesty, with a flavor like a combination of cucumber and lime.
Cucamelons are a warm-season crop, typically grown as annuals. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions on how to grow them from seed.
How to Grow Cucamelons
First, you’ll need to buy some cucamelon seeds. Numerous online stores specialize in selling seeds. Some well-known retailers include Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and seed companies like Burpee, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Eden Brothers. In addition, many seed companies offer print or online catalogs with various seeds. Request catalogs or browse online to find and purchase seeds.
Once you have your seeds in hand, these are the instructions for planting them:
- About 4–6 weeks before your area’s last expected frost date, sow cucamelon seeds in small pots or seed trays filled with a well-draining, high-quality seed-starting mix. Plant seeds about half an inch deep and cover them lightly with soil. Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy.
- Place the pots or seed trays in a warm location, ideally between 75°F–85°F. A heat mat can help maintain a consistent temperature. Ensure the seedlings receive adequate light from a sunny windowsill or a grow light for at least 12–14 hours daily.
- Once the risk of frost has passed and the seedlings have developed at least two sets of true leaves, they can be transplanted outdoors. Gradually acclimate the seedlings to outdoor conditions over 7–10 days by placing them outside for increasing daily periods.
- Cucamelons require a sunny location with well-draining soil. Work some compost or aged manure into the soil to improve fertility and structure before planting.
- Cucamelon plants are vines that require support to climb. Therefore, install a trellis, cage, or other support structure before planting the seedlings. The support should be 5–6 feet tall to accommodate the vine’s growth.
- Space the seedlings about 12–18 inches apart, depending on the available growing space. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball of each seedling and gently place the seedling in the hole. Fill the hole with soil, ensuring the seedling is planted at the same depth in the pot. Water the seedlings thoroughly after planting.
- Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged, watering deeply at the base of the plants. Avoid overhead watering to minimize the risk of diseases. Instead, apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or use compost tea every 4–6 weeks to provide the necessary nutrients for growth.
- While they are relatively resistant to common pests and diseases, keeping an eye on your plants and implementing proper management practices if any issues arise is essential.
- Cucamelons are ready for harvest when they reach about 1–2 inches long, typically 65–75 days after planting. Regularly harvest the fruit to encourage further production.
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Zone-Specific Growing Information
Cucamelons are best suited for USDA Hardiness Zones 9 and 10, where they can be grown as perennials. However, they can also be grown as annuals in a broader range of zones, from 4 to 10, with some adjustments to the planting and growing process.
In cooler zones (4–8), it’s essential to start cucamelon seeds indoors 4–6 weeks before the last expected frost date and transplant them outdoors only after the risk of frost has passed. These plants require a long, warm growing season with temperatures between 75°F–85°F for optimal growth, so providing them with adequate heat and sunlight in cooler zones is crucial.
In warmer zones (9 and 10), cucamelons can be directly sown outdoors after the last frost date or grown as perennials, depending on the local climate. Since they are native to Central America, they thrive in regions with mild winters and hot summers.
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Cucamelon Pests and Diseases
Cucamelons are relatively resistant to common pests, so you shouldn’t lose sleep worrying about them, but they may still be affected by some pests targeting other cucurbits, such as cucumbers, melons, and squashes. Some common pests that may affect cucamelons include:
- Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects suck sap from plant leaves, causing curling, yellowing, and distorted growth. They can also transmit plant viruses. Natural predators, such as ladybugs and lacewings, can help control aphids. Insecticidal soaps or neem oil can also be effective against them.
- Spider mites: These tiny arachnids feed on plant sap, causing stippling or yellowing of the leaves and potentially leading to leaf drop. A strong water spray can help dislodge spider mites, and introducing natural predators like predatory mites can help keep them under control. Insecticidal soaps or neem oil can also be used to treat infestations.
- Whiteflies: These small, white, flying insects feed on plant sap, leading to leaf yellowing and curling. They also excrete honeydew, which can lead to sooty mold growth. Insecticidal soaps, neem oil, or introducing natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings can help control whitefly populations.
- Squash bugs: These brown, shield-shaped bugs can cause wilting and yellowing of the leaves by sucking sap from the plants. Hand-picking and destroying the bugs and their eggs and using row covers can help manage squash bug populations.
- Cucumber beetles: These yellow and black beetles can cause damage by feeding on plant leaves, flowers, and fruits. They can also transmit bacterial wilt, a disease that can cause plants to wilt and die. Row covers, hand-picking, and using insecticides labeled for cucumber beetles can help control their populations.
- Slugs and snails: These pests can cause significant damage to seedlings and leaves by feeding on them at night. Use beer traps, copper barriers, or organic slug baits to control slugs and snails in your garden.