Here’s one fruit that might seem like a “new thing” to many of us – cucamelons. Also called “Mexican sour gherkin” or “sandiita” (little watermelon) in Spanish, this fruit is anything but new.
The mini watermelon has a lot of other monikers in the many different Native American dialects and languages because it has been a part of the Central American flora for many millennia.
The sandiita or the cucamelon is the size of a big grape, it looks like a watermelon and it tastes like a cucumber with a touch of lime. It even looks like a cucumber when you slice it in half.
This unique fruit grows on thin vines dotted ivy-like leaves. Well-known long before Columbus “discovered” the continent, sandiita is a staple in Mexican cuisine. That alone is a reason enough for it to become more popular (or at least somewhat recognizable) in North America. There are a lot of health-related reasons for people in the U.S. to get to know the cucamelon too.
The health benefits of cucamelons
When it comes to one’s value “size matters not”, as a famous small green movie character used to say. Well, the same can be said about these small green fruits.
Cucamelons are essentially a superfood in their own right. They are abundant in many vitamins and minerals, and are also rich in fibers and antioxidants. At the same time, they are relatively low on calories, making them an even better addition to most diets.
That richness in nutrients is believed to help lower the risk of strokes, heart disease, as well as some cancers. And given the dismal statistics in the U.S. about these conditions, foods like the cucamelon can seem quite crucial.
What’s more, the cucamelons also contain large doses of lycopene, a carotenoid that helps with cardiac functions. The fruit also has beta-carotene which is a great antioxidant with many anti-aging properties.
The combination of all that with nutrients like vitamin C and potassium makes the cucamelon almost unparalleled among fruits for helping lower cholesterol levels.
And, as an added bonus, the phytonutrients in the fruit are also great for supporting the proper functioning of our eyes and many other organs.
Can you grow cucamelons in your yard?
The obvious problem with all we’ve said above is that good or not, cucamelons are not readily available in most grocery stores. Fortunately, however, they are relatively easy to grow so you can just grow your own.
Cucamelon vines suffer from very few pests, they don’t need a dedicated greenhouse, and there’s no need for a lot of pruning either.
Of course, as an exotic fruit then won’t grow too well or at all in most northern climates but southern and central U.S. does offer the right conditions for this fruit. That’s especially thanks to the cucamelon’s enviable drought resistance that can put even cucumbers to shame.
So, if you’re interested in growing your own cucamelons, here’s a quick guide:
1. Get some seeds. As with the fruits themselves, the seeds are hard to find in local markets. You can get them relatively easily online, however. They’re not much cheaper than other fruits’ seeds too but make sure that you’re still buying quality. Organic and chemical-free seeds will offer the fastest growth and the best yield so there’s no point in bothering with anything else.
Side note: Since the seeds are somewhat difficult to come by, make sure you save at least some of your own when your first cucamelons start growing. You can give them to your friends and family or, maybe, you can start a cucamelon business? The fact that they’re not common in the U.S. now doesn’t mean that they can’t be in a while. (Read more…)
2. Consider the climate. Cucamelons are technically perennials but are grown as annual vegetables by most farmers. They need a long and warm growing season of between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil temperatures should average between 75 and 85oF for good fruiting.
If you live in colder, northern climates you can still grow cucamelons but you’ll need to go through the extra effort of moving them to a warm and bright indoor area for the winter.
3. Start indoors. Regardless of the climate, it’s most efficient to start growing your plants indoors. The first 6 to 8 weeks are best done with indoor potting to avoid any weather-related incidents, pests, or physical harm. Hydroponics growth can work too (6) but normal potting is also fine. Planting one seed per pot, half an inch deep at room temperature is usually good enough. Once the plants are big and healthy enough, transplant them outdoors.
4. Give them ample sun exposure. Cucamelons are sun-loving plants so when you plant them outdoors make sure they’ll receive plenty of sunlight. Full southern exposure is best with 6 hours of sunlight being the bare minimum. Keep at least 12 inches of distance between each vine too – the more sun they can get, the better.
5. Give them something to climb on. Cucamelons are a vine plant so you’ll need to give them a support structure to grow on. Wire cages and trellis can work great, plus, they’ll help the vines and ivy-like leaves look spectacular too.
6. The soil is also important. Nutrition and good soil drainage are as important for cucamelons as they are for other fruit-baring plants. You should add quality compost or aged manure to the soil to maximize its properties. At least a 2-inch layer of compost into the top 6-8 inches of the soil is a must. Once the vines start growing ~2 months after their plantation, a regular 3-inch compost “side-dressing” every month should be all they need.
7. Water matters too. We did say that cucamelons are drought-resistant and that’s true. However, if you need a great yield, you’ll want to give your vines a steady supply of water. At least an inch of water per week is a must for the summer and at least twice that in especially dry periods.
Spreading 3 to 4 inches of mulch around each plant can also be helpful in warm, inland areas to help regulate the soil’s moisture and prevent weeds from invading the cucamelons’ space.
8. Keep an eye for pests even though they shouldn’t bother you too much. Like Northern Americans, pests also tend to ignore the cucamelon. That’s their loss, of course. Still, as with any other plant, keep an eye for insect or animal pests – you never know.
9. Manage the vines’ growth. As with any other viny plant, cucamelons can grow in pretty peculiar directions. You can help control them by preemptively wrapping the vines around the trellis.
10. When to harvest? Cucamelon fruits are typically harvested when they reach a nice, plump size, as big as a large grape. This usually happens 2 or 3 weeks after pollination. If you harvest them regularly, they should keep growing for a while – usually from early July to mid-November. Harvesting a few fruits before they reach full size will even “encourage” the plant to increase its fruiting throughout the rest of the season.
11. Don’t forget at least a minimal pruning. We weren’t lying when we said that cucamelons don’t need much pruning. As all vines, however, they’ll require at least a bit of trimming.
What can you use your cucamelons for?
Cucamelons can be eaten like any other fruit. If you want to get creative, however, you can also add them to stir-fries and in many different salads and salsas. They also work great with olives and sliced peppers with a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.
Or, you can even pickle them, the way you would with cucumbers. They taste best if you pre-salt them before you pickle them.
Or, maybe you’ll think of another unique recipe? Either way, these deliciously sour and healthy fruits can certainly make a unique addition to North American cuisine.