Thursday, 28 November 2013

Lessons Learned: Growing Cucamelons

This is the first in a new group of posts called "Lessons Learned" about specific types of plant, or gardening in general.  I'm starting with Cucamelons because I have had a lot of interest and questions asked about them!
Directly after a good feed! (Which is why the soil looks so wet, light and muddy)
I first discovered these when looking for exotic seeds, and came across James Wong's online shop.  I'd heard of him through the "Grow Your Own Drugs" fame (to my knowledge, his first book).  But I hadn't read it.  I was actually looking for information on growing Inca Berries when I came across his website and was intrigued by the Cucamelons.  They just looked so damn cute!!  I thought at first they were a savoury gherkin type of pickling cucumber, but he describes them as "cucumber with a tinge of lime".  That makes me think they're more like a grape perhaps?  A bit more acidic?

So I got hold of some seeds and went ahead and planted them and they GREW FAST.  I had, what I thought was 2 straying vines, in a tiny 5cm diameter pot, and they trailed for about 60cm!  This all happened within the space of a week or so.  Now, I did plant them pretty late in the season, because I was just too desperate to try them out and see what they were like, and wasn't really expecting them to do anything.  So I was very impressed with the rate they grew at.  I re-potted them to discover there were in fact far more than 2 plants, but actually 6.  You can see my previous post about them here.

Now since repotting, I tried to train them up a trellis and they began to start flowering, but none of the fruits set sadly.  I would have hand pollinated, but the flowers never matured to open properly.  I think the reason for this was by the time they flowered, it was getting too cold for them.  It was sort of expected though with planting them so late.  Despite not having any literal fruits of my labour, I have certainly learned a lot about growing these, the main points of which I will share:

  • They seem to grow well pot bound, much like tomatoes (in my experience) as their growth slowed considerably after moving to a larger pot, even after the initial "shock" period where plants are still getting used to their new root space.
  • They like the shade.  I considered that they might want more sun after I re-potted them (and due to the lack of room for a larger pot on the shadier side of the greenhouse, I moved it to the sunny side too).  Really though, they haven't done nearly as well in terms of growth in direct sunlight as they managed while creeping between larger pots.
  • Don't let them get too wet/waterlogged because they don't handle it well.  I watered them the same amount as a fruiting chilli plant, forgetting really that they are much, much smaller, and don't really need nearly as much water.
  • They don't like being fed very much.  I presumed when the flowering began that it was time to start feeding, but they actually slowed growth after this and stopped producing flowers.   I'm not sure if feeding them once the fruits are developing (after pollination is successful) would be beneficial or whether they are best left alone.  Consulting James Wong's 2nd Book, "Homegrown Revolution" he does recommend feeding, so it could just be that I need to use a feed with a higher level of potash in future.
  • They don't like too much attention.  I hate to say they "thrive on neglect" but to be honest, I considered the seed hadn't germinated and I'd just leave it a little longer.  Next thing I knew I was preoccupied with chillis and tomatoes and one day discovered this adorable tiny vine creeping around a load of chilli stalks.  Once I realised what they were I began to pay them huge amounts of attention and think I would have been better just admiring from afar.
  • They are delightful to grow and have enchanting miniature melon/squash/cucurbita-style vines.   I would highly recommend for a delicate lacey trellis or a hanging basket (I'm going to try them in a hanging basket next season).
  • I would also recommend for a windowsill box of some kind.  Although they will get very long and trail, they're miniature leaves aren't as invasive as the likes of a real sized squash, and the limited light they would get on a windowsill would suit them better in my opinion.
I'm actually going to try to overwinter them.  At first I didn't know whether to try to fleece them or just leave them alone and see if they make it, since they don't seem to get on better if I just leave them to do their own thing.  I considered even moving the strongest looking one to a smaller pot of its own and considered discarding the rest/or just leave them alone.  I do have more seeds to start again in spring, but it would be nice if I could indeed salvage something from this initial experiment!  Interestingly however, "Homegrown Revolution" also says they can be either mulched or lifted and dried like a bulb to be replanted as a perennial rather than an annual.  I'm not sure if that would work easily in my case, as due to a late planting they may not have formed the fully thicker root stage that is the part you would need to lift and dry until spring.

I lifted them to see, and only some of them, as I guessed, have formed the thicker roots.  They still appear to be very small, but since the vines are so tiny I actually don't really know if this size is expected or not?  I am drying them out to store, and I may replant one in a single pot and keep it indoors with some mulch to see how it copes and if it comes back.




I'm not sure if the root balls should look more bulb like to be honest, but this one is the most developed, with the section above it being obviously woody compared with the delicate vine.

I have certainly learned a lot growing these, and though I've yet to taste the fruits I'm thoroughly excited about what they might bring in the future, as they are an enchanting little crop to grow with very fast growth, so its quick to see some results.  I'll be replanting the tubers and starting some fresh seed just in case the tubers don't work out much earlier next year, and can't wait to see how they get on.

14 comments:

  1. Not something I have tried going - I was tempted until I read that the taste was disappointing so U hope you manage some fruits so you can tell us whether you agree. I'm still waiting for my Japannese wineberry and kiwi to fruit after having been planted for several years. You certainly have to be patient to garden don't you?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You do indeed! Yes, I think I'm imagining them to taste quite grape-like but in actuality they're probably a lot more bland. However, that does mean that they'll be good to add to curries and things where they will hopefully take on the spices. I'm interested to do some cooking experiments with them and see how they turn out best.

      Delete
  2. I hope you manage to get them to fruit next year, I'd be interested to hear how they taste.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too Jo! I will be replanting the root bulby things, and I'm going to start off some new seed indoors in a propagator pretty early to give them a good chance. They're actually meant to be fairly hardy, but I think they're just too young to have reached that point yet because I only discovered them too late in the year and couldn't wait to try them out.

      Delete
  3. These sound really interesting, I will keep an eye out as I am a sucker for the different.. Good luck with overwintering them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I know, I love anything that seems unusual too

      Delete
  4. How funny! I just posted about cucamelons on my FB page today! I am growing a Pimm's bed after being inspired by Mr Wong but we can't get cucamelons here in New Zealand so I'm growing mini white cucumbers instead. I'd be interested to know if they do indeed taste of cucumber with a hint of lime. Great blog! I too am blogging about a mish mash of things which all equate to my aim of living a simpler life! Sarah thefigtree.co.nz

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great! I will certainly update on the taste when I get some fruits. I'm thinking about what I could cook them in too. Thanks for visiting, I'll be heading over your blog now!

      Delete
  5. Can you tell me where you got the seeds from. I'm in NZ and can't find them locally and am unsure about import restrictions?
    Thanks,
    Roland.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know about your import restrictions either to be honest, however I got mine from a gardening shop. They are in the James Wong Homegrown Revolution range, available on http://www.suttons.co.uk. (The range is here http://www.suttons.co.uk/Gardening/Vegetable+Seeds/James+Wong+Homegrown+Revolution+Seeds/list.htm). It might be worth contacting Suttons customer service to find out if you can have them delivered to you okay in NZ. (I hope so!)

      Delete
  6. This year I planted some cucamelon seeds which were really successful. Today I was clearing the garden and the cucamelon vines had died back so I gave a tug at the base of one of the vines only to reveal that they have grown tubers. Does anyone know if these can be over wintered in the ground or is it advisable to lift and store, then re plant in the spring. I'm in the UK.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Kelvin, you can indeed overwinter them. For storage tips I recommended you google James Wong cucumelon tips as I learned about them from his book and I think he has further information on most plants in his blog online.

      Thanks for the comment! Rozzie :)

      Delete
  7. I'm trying cucamelons for the first time. Vines all over, tiny fruits, none full grown yet.
    Living in So Cal, and it's been very hot. Seems to be taking longer than imagined for them to be at eating stage. Can't wait.

    ReplyDelete