How to Grow Mouse Melons
Alternatively known as the Mexican sour gherkin or cucamelon, the mouse melon is a rarely cultivated member of the cucumber family that is steadily gaining popularity in heirloom gardens. The species Melothria scabra is characterized as a prolific vine that produces an ample amount of tiny fruit. Although they look like little melons, the fruit taste more like a citrusy cucumber! Since the plants possess a small stature, they are the perfect choice for container gardeners looking to do a little pickling. Don't let the summer season pass you by, come learn how to grow mouse melons today.
The mouse melon vine is native to Mexico and surrounding Central America. These plants grow quickly and produce fruit for a long period throughout the summer season. While the vines can reach lengths in excess of ten feet, they can be easily trained to grow on compact twine trellises. Other than their need to grow on something, the vines are relatively low maintenance and disease free!
The Basics for Growing
Mouse melons may not require a seasoned gardener to help them grow properly, but they will require a few basic necessities that only the gardener can provide. Here's a look at what you'll need to keep your vines healthy throughout the season.
- Full Sun - At least six hours of direct sunlight will be required on a daily basis to keep your plants healthy and productive. The more sunlight you have, the better off you'll be!
- Fertile & Well Draining Soil - Like most other fruiting garden crops, mouse melons will need plenty of nutrition and ample soil drainage to produce at their maximum. The soil that they will be grown in should be amended with compost or aged manure in order to provide nutrition that will last all season. For soil drainage, perlite or small porous lava rocks can be added.
- Five Gallon Planter - Gardeners who plant to grow these in containers will be very happy to hear that they can and will grow just fine! Unlike standard cucumbers that require much larger containers to reach their full potential, the mouse melons will produce heavily in a five gallon container! For the best results, use a clay or wood container with plenty of holes in the bottom for drainage.
- Trellis - While it might sound like a burden to have a trellis on a patio, think again! There's no need for bulky wood or metal trellises when growing cucamelons. In fact, the petite vines are easily supported using twine. Just tie up to a few anchor points and get creative!
Mouse Melon Vines Growing Throughout the Season -Click thumbnail to view full-size
While mouse melon vines will grow with ease and relatively little care from the gardener, they still need a few things from you! Follow the steps below, and you'll be well on your way to harvesting a ton of these tiny cucumbers/melons.
- Watering - A five gallon container can hold a substantial amount of moisture, so watering should be conducted only when the top couple inches of soil have become dry. Water the plants thoroughly, and always allow excess water to drain free. If the plants are left sitting in standing water, they may develop root rot and die!
- Training Growing Vines - The growing vines of the plant won't necessarily fill the trellis by themselves. The long tendrils will grasp onto anything they can, pulling the vines in all sorts of directions. If you are obsessive like myself, you can gently wrap vines throughout the trellis in a way that you see fit.
- Fertilizing - At the first sign of flowers, you can start to feed your plant compost tea. This can be done on a weekly basis, and will ensure that fruit production remains strong. Adding a tablespoon or two of homemade bone meal to your planters won't hurt either.
- Pollination - An important part to the production of fruit on the mouse melon vine is proper pollination of the flowers. Since the vines produce both male and female flowers on the same plant, they will need some form of insect to properly move pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. To ensure that pollination is occurring, observe the plant for pollinator activity. If no pollinators are present, you can use a cotton swab to manually pollinate the flowers.
- Harvesting - Once flowering is underway, the tiny mouse melon fruit won't be far behind. Harvest the fruit when they have reached a nice plump size and are about one to one and half inches in length. Pick the first few at a bit of an earlier stage to force more fruit production. After pollination, it takes about 2-3 weeks for the mouse melon fruit to reach a harvestable size.
The photos in this section were taken over a time period of a month and a half. If you look close enough, you can see the grape sized fruit dangling from the vines!
Tips for Growing
While growing mouse melons, I found the following tips to be very useful!
- Collecting Seeds - If you wish to replant mouse melons the next season, the steps for seed collection is quite easy. To collect seeds, allow the mouse melon fruits to become so ripe on the plants that they fall off. The fruit that fall from the plant can then be collected and placed in a warm area in your home to ripen even further for a few more days. After they have fully ripened, cut the fruit open and squeeze the seeds out into a glass of declorinated water. Allow the seeds to sit in the water for a few days, or until they begin to fall to the bottom. Strain off any excess plant material left behind and allow the seeds to dry on a paper towel. Once dry, store them in a paper envelope.
- Prune When Necessary - As the season progresses, the vines will create a thick mass of foliage on the trellis. When this starts to happen, some of the leaves will start to yellow as they become choked off from sunlight. To reduce the risk of disease and insect pests, trim off these dying leaves.
- Compost Tea as a Foliar Spray - Every other week, or after soaking rains, mist the upper and undersides of the mouse melon foliage with a compost tea spray. This natural spray will not only provide extra nutrition for the plant, but it will also create healthier leaves. Forming a thin residue on the foliage, the compost tea will also help to create a natural insect barrier!
Mouse Melon Review
Not surprisingly, mouse melons turned out to be one of my most productive patio crops of the 2013 season. The two plants that I grew produced handfuls of the delicious little cucamelons. The majority of them were enjoyed fresh, but I did pickle a jarful to see how they held up. Using a rustic dill pickle recipe, the mouse melons turned out great! Although they lose a bit of their crispness, they're still very good. In the end, this is one heirloom that will definitely be grown again! Thanks for reading this guide on how to grow mouse melons. As always, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you may have.