Indoor cucumbers, and wild cucumber relatives

This month’s post is Proud Mom Edition.

Both my sons enjoy growing plants inside their apartments – all that botanical indoctrination paid off! My younger son, Patrick, has now managed to grow food in his sunny 21st-floor Chicago flat: a nice little harvest of cucumbers.

photo by Patrick Smith

Here’s the cucumber trellis earlier in the summer, when the vines were just getting started:

photo by Patrick Smith

Growing food plants indoors takes a bit of attention, but it’s not that hard. Here are some things you should think about:

  • Light is important. If you don’t happen to have a big sunny window with a view of Lake Michigan, you may need to use some artificial lights. Broader spectrum lights (like “grow lights” that you can buy at hardware/big box stores) are more important for raising plants to maturity than they are for seed-starting.
  • Make sure that you can water your plants without leakage.
  • Use a lightweight potting soil, or go for hydroponics.
  • Some food plants require pollination, and you probably don’t have bees in your apartment. For the cukes, I advised Patrick to transfer pollen between flowers with a paintbrush. (Some cucumbers are parthenogenic, and don’t require pollination. He didn’t know which variety of seeds he had – they weren’t labeled – so took no chances.)
  • Do warn your significant other/roommate before taking over large amounts of space for your vegetable garden. Ahem, Patrick.
  • You may want a guide; there are lots of books on indoor vegetable growing, and websites as well. These will help you decide which plants work best to grow. I wouldn’t go for pumpkins.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve had success growing food indoors!

Speaking of plants in the cucurbit family, those of you who’ve been following me for a while know of my enthusiasm for Melothria scabra, aka Mexican sour gherkin or mouse melon. It’s a fun plant to grow in your garden (or perhaps your apartment!) with mini-cucumbers on long vines. But did you know it has a wild relative that you might find growing locally? Melothria pendula, or the creeping cucumber, is native to the Southeast. You can read about it (and how you really can eat it despite some advice to the contrary) at this Eat The Weeds post.

Anyway, I finally spotted it for myself recently, during a hike in the Great Dismal Swamp Wildlife Refuge in southern Virginia. This is a terrible photo; I’m sorry, but I was trying to snap fast while dodging mosquitoes.


The little fruits are smaller than mouse melons, and apparently turn black as they ripen. As the linked article says, don’t eat them except when green. I snacked on one and felt fine. Very cool to have seen it growing! Remember that while it’s okay to sample here and there if you know exactly what you’re eating, you should not remove plants from the wild or harvest significantly from them without permission.


By Erica Smith, Montgomery County Master Gardener

2 thoughts on “Indoor cucumbers, and wild cucumber relatives

  1. Denise October 5, 2018 / 7:42 am

    I have grown food indoors in the past, but haven’t for a few years. How do you handle bugs? I’m thinking of bringing in one of my pepper plants and over wintering it in a cool basement under lights. I can handle white flies with sticky tape, but is there anything else I need to look out for?? Thanks!


    • Erica October 5, 2018 / 9:43 pm

      If you’re bringing in plants from outside, definitely check them over for bugs carefully and maybe give them a spray bath (or even a dipping bath) in soapy water. Rinse in clean water afterwards. Aphids are a potential issue, and maybe spider mites. A good houseplant guide can give you more specific info. Good luck!

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