Achocha is a climbing plant that is related to melons and cucumbers. An easy plant to grow, achocha was one of the food plants of the Incas and provides plentiful edible fruits in late summer. A vigorous climber, it makes a very good screen and provides a talking point for your garden.
- Source your seeds. Achocha is not grown commercially, but seeds are generally available from heirloom or heritage seed suppliers. You may also be able to find someone willing to swap seeds with you on one of the many online seed swap sites. Achocha seeds are a fascinating shape.
- Sow your seeds. Achocha is a tender plant, and you should sow seeds when you sow your tomatoes or beans. They can be sown indoors in pots or modules a few weeks before the last frost date in your area. Or you can sow them outdoors (where they are to grow) once the risk of frost has passed.
- Provide support. Once the plants are 4 or 5 inches tall, they will start to grow tendrils and require support. Achocha will happily grow up a trellis or a cane wigwam or over an arch. Achocha grows rapidly and produces a lot of leaf, making it an ideal plant for a garden screen.
- Water and feed. Keep the achocha plants well watered until they are established. They may then still need watering in dry weather. A high-potash feed (e.g. a tomato feed or similar) will help to encourage fruit development once the plant is in flower, but if you have good soil, this may not be necessary.
- Watch for flowers. Achocha flowers are small and pale green. You may find it hard to spot them, but hoverflies and other beneficial garden insects will love them.
- Keep an eye out for fruits. Achocha fruits are green and teardrop-shaped. They grow singly or in pairs, depending on which sort of achocha you have (singly for Fat Baby and in pairs for Lady's Slipper). They may have soft, fleshy spines. Fruits generally appear in late summer, in large numbers!
- Harvest and eat. Achocha is similar to beans in that the more fruits you harvest, the more the plant will produce. Young fruits are tender and can be eaten raw (and whole). Larger fruits are better cooked (think stir fry, pizza topping or anywhere you would use green pepper), and you need to open them up and remove the hard, black seeds before cooking.
- Save your own seeds. Carry on the heirloom tradition of achocha by saving your own seeds from mature fruits. Simply cut the fruit open and flick out the seeds -- then let them dry out before storing them and sharing them with your friends. You don't need to worry about achocha crossing with other plants in your garden -- it's too different!