Plant Common Name
Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumber, Mouse Melon
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Widely grown and eaten across Central America before the arrive of Christopher Columbus, mouse melons are an intriguing New World "cucumber" with miniature, tasty and ornamental fruits. They are small, 1-inch (2.5 cm) ovals: about the size of pigeon eggs, cherry tomatoes or American quarter coins. The fruit skin is deep green and silvery-green mottled, resembling Liliputian-size watermelons. Perfect for fresh snacking, adding to salads or pickling, mouse melons have a sweet cucumber-like taste that then becomes rather pleasantly lemon-sour in aftertaste. For that reason, this plant is also referred to as the Mexican sour gherkin.
The plants are frost-tender and need warm soil and temperatures. About 60 to 70 days after sowing seeds, the little mouse melons are ready to harvest. If the copious number of fruits are hard to the touch, they are best used for pickling. But once the skin is a little soft, pick them for fresh eating. Or, promptly gather them as they naturally drop from the vines, which is an easy indicator the fruits are ready to eat.
Mouse melons are annual vines that prosper in the warmth and sunshine of summer. They have small, pointy lobed leaves (resembling ivy foliage) that are green and scratchy to the touch. When mature the vines produce tiny yellow flowers that are either male or female. Pollen-bearing male flowers are produced first, followed by the fruit-bearing female flowers. The female flowers are recognizable with close inspection because of the bulbous ovaries at their bases.
Grow these vines in full sun and fertile, evenly moist, perfectly drained garden loam. After the threat of frost passes, sow the seeds directly in the ground. If transplanting container-grown plants, take care to not damage their tender white roots unless they are root-bound. Root-bound plants can be saved only if their roots are gently teased apart before planting. Be sure to harvest fruits regularly, so vines will continue to flower and produce fruit.
The Mexican sour gherkin cucumber is best trained on a trellis or cage but it's successful even if allowed to ramble freely across the ground. Fresh or pickled, the mouse melons are a tasty and exciting vegetable, and they are as easy to grow. What a perfect addition to a children's garden!