Recent visitors to my vegetable garden immediately focus on a large vine that had taken over one corner of my vegetable garden. It has cucumber-like leaves and spiked oval fruit."What on earth is that?" They usually ask. I quickly answer them by breaking off a mature yellow fruit and handing it to them. "It is called one of two things: Either the African Horned Melon, or Jelly Melon." These bizarre fruit have roots (no pun intended) in Northern Africa, but are gaining popularity in the States as a novelty crop.
They are self-pollinating, which makes them great for limited spaces. Diseases rarely affect the Jelly Melon, but warm summers are required for the best fruit production. I've heard of them growing in the Northeast successfully though, so go ahead and try your luck. The fruit tastes (to me) like a sweet cucumber, but I've heard some describe it as a cross between a cucumber and a banana. The first time I grew a Jelly Melon the seeds were large with almost no edible part on the fruit. But the next year, the fruit was much better. I guess the weather can affect how the final product turns out.
Jelly Melons are easy to grow from seed. Start seeds in spring by either direct sowing, or planting in module trays for transplanting out later (second option better for northern climates). Planting out can occur when they have their first two true leaves. The plants are extremely drought tolerant once established, and can go without water for weeks without being fazed. The fruits ripen from mid-summer to late fall.
The only problem that I've encountered with mine is the trellis size. It was growing on a 4 x 6 foot trellis, which turned out to be a bit on the small side. I went on a hiking trip in New Mexico last summer, and by the time I returned home, the vines had spread up several feet of the neighboring boundary fence, swamping the path in between. It also sprawled over a large portion of the bed it was in, but that was fine with me. I forgot to set out my summer squash before I left, and the melon just filled in the extra space. I wish my plants behaved this way when I'm home. Sigh...
For food gardeners who are looking to try funky new fruit, give the Jelly Melon a spot in your garden. You're in for a treat!
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