How to grow the African Horned Cucumber

The African Horned Cucumber is known by numerous names across the world depending on where you come from or cultural connections. You may know this fruit as the Horned Melon, Kiwano melon, Melano, Jelly melon, Blowfish Fruit, Gakachika, Gaka and Hedged Gourd to name a few.

Origin of the African Horned Cucumber

The African Horned Cucumber is believed to have originated in Southern and Central Africa where it has been used as a traditional food source. The fruit grows naturally in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland.

The African Horned Cucumber is now grown all over the world for its ornamental and edible qualities.

Description

The African horned Cucumber is a hardy annual vine that has proven to be easy to grow, requiring warm conditions and some humidity to grow to full potential. The spiny, odd looking fruit is green while it is growing, turning to a golden colour as it ripens.

The thick-skinned fruit has an edible greenish yellow coloured pulp inside with lots of edible seeds. The taste of this fruit is quite pleasant and reminds me of a mix of Banana and Cucumber with a hint of lime or possibly Kiwi-fruit. The fruit is quite sour if not given a chance to ripen and mature.

African Horned Cucumber
African Horned Cucumber vine

Using African Horned Cucumbers in the kitchen

As a different fruit than most of us are used to seeing, the African Horned Cucumber is quite a decorative fruit with its spiny bright orange-yellow rind and the bright greenish jelly like pulp inside.

The pulp has a seedy texture, like passionfruit but has smaller and softer seeds. As mentioned before the taste is something else - think of a combination of cucumber and banana, with the tartness of kiwifruit and lime. Adding a bit of salt or sugar - or both if you like - really enhances the flavour of the African Horned Cucumber.

The African Horned Cucumber flesh can be added to things like salads, fruity salsas, cocktails, smoothies, fruit salads or just simply eat them as they are.

The African Horned Cucumber has a bright green jelly-like pulp
African Horned Cucumber vine hanging from the ceiling

Planting African Horned Cucumbers

The African Horned Cucumber vines are reasonably easy to grow, just like a cucumber and are usually unaffected by pest and diseases. They like a warm and sunny location but are quite tolerant of light shade as well. They will grow in poorer type soils, but to maximise your harvest plant in good humus rich soil. Picking the fruit regularly will encourage the growth of more fruit.

Plant your seeds around 1cm deep, add a couple of seeds to each planting site and thin out after a couple weeks if you want, although this really isn’t necessary. Seeds should be planted around 50cm apart to allow for good air circulation around the plant.

The African Horned Cucumber vines love to climb just like ordinary cucumbers. African Horned Cucumbers can be a rampaging vine so you will need a sturdy trellis to hold them, but they also grow well on the ground.

When to plant African Horned Cucumbers

In Temperate areas of Australia, the best time to plant is in the spring and early summer, after the chances of frost has passed.

In Sub-tropical frost-free areas, plant from late winter to late summer.

In Tropical regions, plant during the dry season, from the beginning of Autumn to mid spring.  

Harvesting

Start to pick the fruit when they have turned from green to yellow- orange colour. Be careful when harvesting the fruit as sometimes they can bleed from the tips of the spines if they are damaged, staining what they touch.

Wear gloves when handling the fruit as the spikes can scratch delicate skin. The African Horned Cucumber fruit will store for a couple of weeks if kept cool.

Handling the African Horned Cucumber

Happy gardening!

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