African Horned Cucumber
Scientific Name: Cucumis metuliferus
Common Names: African Horned Cucumber, Kiwano Melon, Horned Melon, Jelly Melon, Melano, Hedged Gourd, Blowfish Fruit, Gaka, Gakachika
African horned cucumber is native to parts of Sub-Saharan Africa where it's used as a traditional food source. Aside from a few other cucurbit family members, it's one of the few sources of water available in the Kalahari Desert during the dry season.
African horned cucumber is a very decorative and colourful fruit with bright green, jelly-like flesh and a spiny, bright orange rind. The flesh has a seedy texture, similar to passion-fruit but with smaller, softer seeds. The flavour of the flesh tastes like a combination of banana and cucumber with the tartness of lime or kiwifruit. Sprinkling sugar, salt or a combination of both over the flesh helps to enhance its flavour. The flesh can be blended in smoothies or added to salads, fruity salsas and cocktails and is sure to be a talking point if prepared for dinner parties. African horned cucumbers can be eaten at any stage of development, just like regular cucumbers, but have maximum flavour when left to fully mature on the vine. African horned cucumbers store well, remaining good for several weeks after harvest.
African horned cucumbers are easy to grow and don't suffer from many pests or diseases. Choose a growing location that receives full sun or light shade. African horned cucumbers will grow in poor soils but may only produce one or two fruits, for maximum fruit harvest plant into rich, fertile soil. If your soil is sandy or lacking in organic matter lay down plenty of well-rotted manure or compost prior to planting African horned cucumbers. Top dress with a complete organic fertiliser if growth is slow or at the first sign of any nutrient deficiency. African horned cucumber vines can grow huge, up to 2m tall, so be sure to provide a sturdy trellis for them grow up and keep the fruit off the ground. African horned cucumber vines can take over a garden when growing conditions are good so allow for a buffer between them and smaller, easily smothered vegetables. The fruits and vines of African horned cucumber are quite prickly so be sure to wear thick gloves when harvesting fruits or tending to the plants. Water regularly for good growth but avoid wetting the leaves to reduce fungal issues such as powdery mildew. If fruit set is poor it may be because insect pollinators are lacking. African horned cucumbers have separate male and female flowers and can be hand-pollinated just like regular cucumbers to improve fruit set. Don't use a male flower from a regular cucumber or any other type of cucurbit as African Horned Cucumbers will not cross-pollinate with them.
When to Sow:
In temperate regions of Australia sow African horned cucumber seeds anytime during Spring or Summer as long as any chance of frost has past. In frost-free, subtropical areas of Australia sow African horned cucumber seeds from late Winter to late Summer. In tropical regions of Australia sow African horned cucumber seeds during the dry season, from mid Autumn to late Winter is best. African horned cucumbers are unlikely to grow well in cold and mountainous regions of Australia.
How to Sow:
Sow African horned cucumber seeds 1cm deep. To produce seedlings with maximum vigour sow a few seeds into each planting hole and thin to the healthiest seedlings after a few weeks of growth. Space African horned cucumber plants about 50cm apart to give their roots room for expansion and facilitate airflow between plants.
African horned cucumber seeds are quick to germinate, most seedlings will emerge 7 to 16 days after sowing the seeds.
Time to Harvest:
African horned cucumbers can take a long time to start producing fruit, but are highly productive once they get going. Expect to harvest your first ripe fruits about 17 to 19 weeks after sowing the seeds.