Kiwano or African cucumber. How to grow it


We changed the third in Gardenprue to talk about a fruit, which by external appearance could be taken from any movie. Typical fruit of planet “X” that nobody knows. There will be countries where it is known, but in Spain it is a rather unusual fruit.

A fruit grown as a vegetable that we can grow in the garden. We are talking about the Kiwano.


This strange fruit is from the cucurbit family, a family that we take good account of in the orchard in the summer months. Among the horticultural products of cucurbits are cucumbers, zucchini, squash, melon and watermelon among the most common.

If you are told that the inside of this fruit is green and is called kiwano, the first thing you will think, (myself included) is that it is a relative of the Kiwi … Wrong. As well it expresses its gender is Cucumis , like cucumber or melon.

Watermelon or pumpkins are from the family but not from the genus Cucumis. It also has other names like African Cucumber.


The origin of the fruit, although it may be thought that it comes from our antipodes, is from southern Africa.

So the name has something to do with the Kiwi? If there is any fruit that we associate with New Zealand almost instantaneously, it is the Kiwi. Commercially, it was this country that began with commercial crops of  Cucumis metuliferus and it was they who christened it Kiwano.

Today it is cultivated (although not in huge quantities) in countries like the US, Australia and some places in Europe and the Middle East that, due to climate, allow its cultivation.


Yes, it is indeed done. There are already certain points where productions begin to take place. It is not easy to find it in greengrocers normally. It is a fruit that you have to go looking for to find it.

The Granada municipality of Almuñecar is famous for its productions of tropical fruits such as avocados, kiwis, medlars or mangoes. We are talking about commercial productions but if you want to cultivate in the garden in a particular way, it admits more locations within Spain.


The fruit is about 10-12 cm long by about 6 wide, melon-shaped, yellow-brown in color and fleshy and wide spines. Looking inside, it is perfectly recognizable that it is a close relative of the cucumber by the shape and arrangement of the seeds . The difference is that the green of the fleshy and mucilaginous part is of an intensity unmatched by cucumber.

Inside look of a Kiwano
Photo by Antti T. Nissinen

On the internet we can find recipes, dozens of recipes that include Kiwano. Even so, its consumption is usual fresh. It has a great supply of vitamins (especially C) and is high in potassium. Its caloric content is low (few sugars and fats).

Its refreshing flavor with some hints of cucumber, banana (perhaps because of the potassium content) and a little acidic will delight all lovers of exotic fruits.

If the outer crust is not beaten or damaged, it can hold up to 6 months .

Therefore, it is an ideal fruit for long transport in case of coming from distant areas. It is a fruit with a high sensitivity to ethylene gas, so conservation must be isolated from climacteric products such as bananas, figs, apples, pears, peaches …


The part that concerns us in Gardenprue is to tell you about the necessary conditions to grow it, so we go there.


The first thing we think of when we talk about exotic fruits is their warm climate condition. Most of the time it is usually right. In the case of the Kiwano, although it requires warm climates, such warm temperatures are not necessary.

Moreover, at a particular level, a kiwano could be given as long as there are no frosts, it is protected from the wind and the cold periods are neither too long nor too intense.

In Spain more delicate fruits are grown than Kiwano, so there is no reason not to try.

In cooler climates you can try growing as an annual until the first frost and see how it works. The environments do not favor him excessively wet although temperatures are benign.


Like many of the plants, the best soil is going to be one that is very very fertile with a good content of organic matter, a situation that we will achieve with a good mature compost. It is a plant with a high demand in nutrients like any cucurbit .

In addition to the nutritional part, the soil must have a loamy and somewhat sandy structure to allow good drainage and avoid flooding at all costs.


As herbaceous it is, it can be cultivated in the garden as one more horticultural with a previous germination in a protected seedbed (a single frost kills the plant). They take 3 to 5 weeks to germinate.

It can be done during the spring calculating when it will stop frosting to transplant to the garden.

The cultivation of Kiwano will last until almost fall or almost without, depending on the sowing month. When the fruits turn yellow-brown and the rind is a little soft, it will be time to enjoy them.

Appearance of the kiwano still unripe


These are two aspects to take into account in the cultivation of Kiwano.

It can be trained or left as a creeping .

If it is guided, the wind will affect it with greater intensity and it is something that it does not carry well, so depending on the conditions we will have to choose one or the other option depending on the prevailing wind intensity in the growing area.

Soil moisture is another factor to take into account.

If the soil remains damp easily, it is convenient to stain it or make a  natural or plastic mulch to protect the fruits from rotting.

Kiwano Plant Tutored
Photo by: Glenn

Pruning consists of pinching the seedlings at the beginning of planting and then pruning when the male flowers appear. As it is creeping (climber if it is tread), it is advisable to do regular pruning to avoid an impenetrable plant mass between rows or cultivation corridors.

The control of pruning in home or garden crops will be limited to having the plant controlled in the designated space.


Reproduction is by seeds like any other cucurbit, given the large number of seeds that can be recovered from a single fruit. They have to be washed well and at the time of sowing put them to soak a few hours 24 hours before thus facilitating the germination that will occur approximately a week after sowing.

The usual sowing period is at the end of winter protected in a warm bed or already in spring in a greenhouse.

If a seedling is used, it can be planted in a greenhouse at the beginning of spring and if it is outdoors towards the end of this season.


As it is not a very widespread crop, there are no very specific pests that can be highlighted as in other crops. The whitefly  and some cryptogamic disease caused by damage or excess humidity in the environment can be mentioned .

The preventive treatments if fungus is a common practice in many cultures with sulfur compounds, as well as a proper control of pests at the time of incipient appearance.

The whitefly is always difficult to eradicate due to its high reproduction rate, so you have to be very vigilant. New generations can hatch and lay eggs in just 24 hours. Its control leaves no other option than that of selective insecticides in integrated management.

Neem oil treatment can be effective in keeping these types of soft-bodied insects at bay.

Ecologically, application of a parasitoid wasp (Encarsia formosa ) well known in the biological control of Trialeurodes vaporiarorum.

Botrytis is also general,  which occurs due to friction between the fruits themselves (thorny) when causing wounds between them, thus facilitating the rotting and entry of various pathogens (not only Botrytis ).

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