Two years ago a friend gave me a packet of Horned Melon seeds but as it’s a tropical plant, there was no way we could grow it outside here in the Belgian Ardennes. Consequently, the pack of seeds ended almost forgotten about at the bottom of my seed box. Then this year we constructed a polytunnel and around June time I suddenly remembered the seeds! It was already a bit late to start sowing them and I had no idea whether the seeds would germinate …but I took a chance and gave it a go.
Out of the three seeds that I sowed, only one came up, by which time all the beds were crammed with different sorts of summer veg. So I planted the little seedling in a pot, attached a string to one of the tunnel’s cross bars and placed it up one corner, where it subsequently got a bit overlooked when it came to watering. However, it appears the plant thrived on neglect because a few weeks ago I glanced in its direction and saw to my surprise a strange spiky fruit hanging from the vines.
This fruit is known by many different names: Horned Melon, Kiwano, African Horned Melon, jelly melon, blowfish fruit, melano and its Latin name Cucumis metuliferus. As the names suggest, its origins are in Africa, the Kalahari dessert to be precise, but the plant is also grown in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The fruits look like an oval melon with horns. It’s ripe when the skin is yellow and the inside is lime green. Mostly used for decoration, it’s also perfectly edible with a cucumber courgette kind of taste when picked green and if allowed to ripen on the vine a combination of banana, melon and cucumber. The ripe flesh is a bit gelatinous and I’ve found out that there is a special method for eating this kind of fruit.
Containing my curiosity proved too big a task for me and, reasoning with myself that the fruit would never get time to ripen on the vine now that the temperatures had dropped, I harvested it… wearing gloves of course. The flesh was still a bit firm but had a lovely lemony, cucumber taste. As it was not fully ripe, the flesh hadn’t had time to get to the jelly stage which meant it was crunchier and fresher tasting.
All in all, the conditions were perfect for my Kiwano plant this summer – lots of sunshine which brought tropical temperatures to the polytunnel. I’ve found out that my infrequent watering was actually just what this plant likes because it needs to dry out between watering. Perfect! The Horned Melon is not really particular about what kind of soil it grows in but apparently tends to prefer a clay or loamy soil.
I am definitely going to give growing Kiwano another try next season but I’ll start sowing a bit earlier to give the fruit the time it needs to ripen on the vine.
Have you grown anything exotic like the Horned Melon this summer?