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From exotic strawberries to ‘cucamelons,’ day dreaming and ordering seeds goes hand in hand

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: January 11, 2018
  • Published January 11, 2018

Melothria scabra, also known as cucamelons or mouse melons, are only about an inch long and are sometimes described as tasting like cucumber with a hint of lime. (Getty Images)

It is seed ordering time. (Isn't that what January is for?) In keeping with last week's theme that seed catalogs have gone the way of the internet, let me ask if I am the only one who hasn't received a single print seed catalog so far this winter season.

In years past, Territorial, Johnny's, Nichols and even a few others would have arrived in the mail, despite their decided shift to doing business via the internet. We shall see if they come this year.

In the meantime, I am not going to hold my breath waiting for snail mail copies of catalogs. A couple of things are on my mind this week, and the beauty of having the internet on which to search and from which to order is that I can take care of business all in one sitting.

Let's start with sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus. They are notoriously cool-season flowers and do exceedingly well in most of Alaska. We now have at least a dozen years of experience starting them very early in the season and pinching them back until they can go outside. This, instead of starting them the traditional way (which is starting them six weeks before planting out), produces very bushy plants that throw off way more flowers and, even better, start to bloom weeks earlier.

Now is the time to order sweet peas so they can be started at the end of the month or so. Look for seed racks locally; I haven't seen any yet, so it might be time to resort to internet ordering. Potential sources of seeds (just use your search engine for addresses for these and others) are Renee's Garden Seeds, Swallowtail Garden Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

And, obviously, if you don't know what Lathyrus odoratus look like, then by all means use the "images" section in your web browser, though I doubt any would not know this one. The same goes for any plant you read about, but with which you are unfamiliar.

Next, an article appeared in one of my news aggregaters about cucamelons, aka "mouse melons." I had never heard of them and never grown them, but they look just like tiny, and I mean 1 inch or so long, watermelons. They are said to taste like cucumbers with a hint of lime, and the claim is they are extremely easy to grow and worthwhile.

Gurney's has the seeds. Lo and behold, they only take 60 days to harvest from germination. Growing them is compared to growing cucumbers, only the literature seems to suggest they possess more cold hardiness, and you don't need a greenhouse. Here in Alaska, I am sure they should be grown in pots and moved indoors when it drops below 50 degrees at night, but if anyone has tried them, let me know.

Once I started searching for cucamelons, I found myself wandering around, looking at all sorts of interesting stuff. Check out, for example, to discover all manner of exotic stuff. Warning: This site is a time sucker, and may make you wish you lived where it is warmer and there is a longer growing season.

OK. Celery is not something most people grow. You have to start the seed in February here in Alaska in order to get a crop, and that means you have to spend a long time with these seedlings. Given we don't consume tons of celery, it seems like a lot of effort for something that is not worth it.

Still, the taste of homegrown celery is unlike the celery you get at the store and worth it if you are a dedicated gardener. Burpee, Johnny's and Territorial carry different varieties, and what have you got to lose starting some seeds and seeing how it goes? The local Denali Seed racks should be up soon and are another great source. You want seed that is attuned to growing in our unique climate and all of theirs are.

Strawberries also caught my attention this week. Normally, Alaskans plant starts, but if you want an unusual variety (and there are many), then you need to start them by seed, as this is the only way you will get them. And there are many kinds out there.

It takes about a month for the strawberry seed to germinate and then a while to get a decent-size plant. Even then, most growers advise picking off flowers the first year, so you will not get fruit until the second. If you start early enough, however, you will get enough flowers to have a crop the first season and see if you even want a second one.

Even if you don't want to start your own strawberries, it is fun dreaming and looking at all the varieties we could be eating instead of the same old "perfect," but often tasteless, varieties we get for our just desserts. Thompson and Morgan has a nice bunch of berries and good cultural information on growing them.

Finally, I got a request this week for hardy kiwis. There is an excellent article from the University of Minnesota Extension that details all you need to know about hardy varieties (of which there appear to be three, though only two are recommended for taste). Stark Bros is the webolog of fruits. Also check out One Green World.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Farewell to wonderful Executive Director Robin Dublin and welcome back new Executive Director Michael Monterusso. If you have not renewed your membership, do so now at

Amaryllis, daffodils and tulips: If you have these bulbs in the dormant storage, now is the time to get them into light and give them some water.

Fuchsia: It is a bit early to get yours out of storage, but you could them a bit of water.

Pelargoniums: If you are growing yours indoors right now, you should consider pinching them back and shaping them so they produce beautiful plants for this spring. Save the pinched cuttings, let them dry out for 48 hours and then root in damp sand or well-draining soil.

Read my books: "Teaming With Microbes," "Teaming With Nutrients" and "Teaming With Fungi"!

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