Give cucamelons a try as an alternative to cucumbers
If you like cucumbers but find them difficult to grow, why not give cucamelons a try?
It’s a vine with fruit the size of grapes, which taste like cucumbers with a tinge of sourness/lime, but look like a miniature melon.
It’s also called the mouse melon, Mexican sour gherkin, Mexican miniature watermelon and Mexican sour cucumber (guess where it’s from)?
I sow mine in April, and don’t be worried about their slow growth, they take a while to establish, then take off big-style, reaching up to 10ft in the right conditions.
Cucamelons are drought and pest-resistant, producing male and female flowers on the same plant, but they can pollinate themselves, with fruits developing at the base of the female flower.
They don’t need to be grown under glass, but I grow mine in the lean-to greenhouse, away from the winds and cool, grey days that are a feature of most North East summers.
They can be planted close together and mine did well in large pots.
SOWING TIME: April-May in a propagator/windowsill, ideal germination temp 24°C, 6-14 days.
HARVESTING TIME: July-October.
ASPECT AND SOIL: Full sun, rich, well-drained soil.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate to get going, then easy.
They’re perennials and produce large, radish-like roots, which you can store like dahlias and start into growth the next spring for earlier crops – it also means you miss out on their slow start to life.
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In autumn, expose the roots to see if they have produced tubers. Store these in slightly moist compost or Vermiculite in a frost-free place during winter.
Plant them up into pots in early to mid-April under glass, then either pot on into large containers in a cool greenhouse or plant outside in sheltered areas.
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JOBS TO DO THIS WEEKEND
• Plant out hardened off sweet peas and tie in if they are tall enough. Provide support with twigs or string or pea netting.
• Make sure annuals you buy at the garden centre/nursery are hardened off before you plant them out. Half-hardy annuals like Surfinia, petunias, French marigolds and Antirrhinum can’t go outside until your last frost date.
• Wait until the soil is warm enough before planting potatoes – if grass and weeds are growing, it should be fine. If you got off to an early start last month with your spuds, then they may be ready for earthing up – covering the haulms with soil. Start this process as the shoots start to show, paying special attention if frosts are forecast. If frost is forecast, protect early, young potato shoots. They’ll need protection even in unheated greenhouses and tunnels, as well as outdoors. Earth them up or cover with newspaper, net curtain or horticultural fleece overnight.
• Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as Forsythia, Ribes (flowering currant), Kerria japonica and winter jasmine. Next year’s flowers will be produced on stems growing over the coming months, so cut back hard now to get the shape you want for next spring. Wait until summer to prune magnolias such as M. stellata and M. x soulangeana.
• Once the soil is warm and still moist, mulch well, to a depth of 6cm/3in. Use leaf mould or home-made compost if possible, to suppress weeds and help retain moisture levels right through the summer.
• Hardy annual seeds can be sown directly into open ground, but wait until you can see weeds growing strongly before sowing.
• Take cuttings from young shoots of shrubs. They should be putting on new growth now and will root easily.
• You can still plant herbaceous perennials such as Geranium, Astrantia and Oriental poppies. Check that the plants you buy have strong, green shoots and plant them into well-prepared soil.