Barbie Doll Watermelons, that’s what I call them, because, well… that’s what they look like. Their real name is Mexican Sour Gherkin (Melothria scabra), but they also popularly go by mouse melon, cucamelon, and sandíita (meaning little melon in Spanish).
Mexican Sour Gherkin is a rampant vining plant with small, decorative leaves that remind me of a watermelon, but much, much smaller. It hails from Mexico and Central America (the name kind of gives it away), producing diminutive, cucumber-like fruit that are slightly tangy on the outside and fresh and watery inside. They are good in salads, stir-fried, or pickled, but most of my crop never make it as far as the kitchen as its tiny size and freshness makes it a great snack while working in the garden.
Unlike either cucumber or melons the plant is incredibly easy to grow. I first started growing it in my community garden and despite changes in location and growing conditions, I have never had any trouble producing a healthy crop. The plant is drought tolerant and doesn’t seem to have any pests that I have encountered. Seedlings often start out small and frail-looking and just when you think it will never grow it finally does. And once it starts, it will keep producing more and more fruit until the frost takes the whole plant down. It’s only real issue is that it seems to need sun to really get going. For years I thought it was warmth that it needed, but this year has been unseasonably cool and it is as vigorous as ever. However, a plant that I placed in a shadier spot has not been as productive as the plant that is out in full sun. Soil nutrition is also a contributing factor — treat it as you would any other cucumber. My experience also suggests that like cucumber it prefers a protected spot out of the path of strong wind.
- Start seed when you sow other cucumbers. In cooler climates, start indoors underneath lights and move outdoors after the last frost.
- Save seed from ripe fruit that has fallen to the ground.
- Harvest and eat fruit at just about any size.
- Super productive — regularly check around the leaves as well as the ground for ripe fruit.
- Give it a warm spot in full sun and water well until the plant is established.
- Be sure to situate it in front of a large and strong support structure. I did not make a large enough structure this year and I had to cobble something together with larger bamboo poles when it outgrew a smaller frame.
- Great for small spaces as it doesn’t need a lot of space on the ground level — grow it upward and sideways as an attractive and edible privacy screen.
- Urban Gardening: It’s drought tolerant and disease and pest resistant nature makes it a good choice for community garden plots that you can’t tend to regularly.