The Zucca Melon project – introduction

Last year, I decided to experiment with candied fruit. I made candied orange peel, candied pineapple, candied cherries, and a few other things. My mom saw my efforts and said to me “Oh, you should grow a zucca melon so you can candy it. That’s what they use in fruitcakes you know.”

So, figuring that my mom knew what she was talking about, I set off to find zucca melon seeds. Of course, I didn’t actually know what a zucca melon was, but I knew I wanted to grow one if it is a good source of candied fruit for fruitcakes.

Well it turns out that zucca melons are not as common as my mother thinks. She grew up in the Okanagan in the 1950’s, and at that time zucca melons were cultivated extensively and very popular. They were used as a filler for jams and a substitute for citrus peel, which wasn’t imported to Canada during the war. Since then, they stopped being cultivated in the area, and nearly became extinct.  Thanks to the heroic efforts of Sharon Rempel who went on epic hunt for zucca melon seeds, and  Mr. Glenn Swenson of Sandwich, Illinois, who grew them in his backyard for 30 years, some seeds were rediscovered and the species was saved.  You can read this fascinating story here.

Now I really had to grow a zucca melon.

Of course, it’s really hard to find zucca melon seeds for sale. In fact, the only place I could find them was from Rob’s Rare and Giant Seeds (which is a website that you really need to visit for a tour of the weird and wonderful world of giant plants).

Yes, I got them from Rob’s rare and GIANT seeds. Zucca melons are gigantic, weighing up to 127 1/2 pounds, according to the Osoyoos and District Museum. Zucca melon vines can grow to be 25 feet long.  Do you remember the show I Love Lucy? Well, Ricky’s drum was made from a zucca melon.  Apparently the zucca melon skins get so thick that you need a saw to cut through them.

Zucca melons are members of the gourd family, and their flowers open at night. Originally from Africa, these plants attract African pollinators that come out at night, and we don’t have those here in the Pacific Northwest. This means that I’ll need to pollinate them by hand. At night.

I placed my order at Rob’s, and shortly thereafter got my zucca melon seeds. All nine of them. At first I thought that wasn’t very many seeds, until I realized that I really don’t have room for 9 zucca melons in my yard.

Hopefully I’ll be able to grow these seeds out, and save some for next year. I’ll update this blog over summer 2014 and let you know my progress. Stay tuned.

Next article > Planting the zucca melon seeds