Issue: June 16, 1997
Cucumbers and melons too close in the garden?Question:
I have planted watermelons and cucumbers close together in my garden. Friends told me that was a mistake, that the watermelons would taste like cucumbers. Do I have to move my melons further from my cucumbers? If so, how far?Answer:
You are in luck, you don't have to move your plants. There would be a problem only if you were planning to save seeds from your watermelon to plant next year. The effects of the pollen are expressed in the next generation, so if you saved seed and planted them next year, then the melon would have characteristics of the cucumber. Even then, the cucumber pollen would only have an effect if the genetic material from the cucumber pollen successfully fertilized an ovule forming a seed.
With regard to the watermelons produced this year, the pollen from the cucumbers would not affect the flavor of the melons. The melon is produced by the mother (seed) plant; only the seed itself is affected by the genetic material in the pollen. Since we do not intentionally eat watermelon seeds, and they do not contribute significantly to the flavor of the melon, this year's crop should not be affected.
This is a common gardening concern so I spoke with several experts to confirm my answer. Jim Sais, former New Mexico State University Extension Horticulture Specialist, confronted this question in his career and felt that often the cause of this was the eating of a melon which was underripe or bitter due to environmental stress. Dr. Paul Bosland, New Mexico State University chile breeder, also gets similar questions from gardeners who plant hot jalapeno chile next to bell peppers. The gardeners are concerned that the bell peppers will get hot. He said that this is not possible, but it may appear to happen because gardeners may eat a jalapeno in the garden then a little later eat a bell pepper and detect a burning. He attributes this to the fact that the body, thankfully, blocks the signals from nerves affected by the "hot" chemicals in the jalapeno, then when eating the bell pepper, the chemicals are moved to new receptors and the nerve impulses released again. However, this season's bell pepper cannot become hotter from being pollinated by a hot pepper nearby.
If you do find a bell pepper which can become hot in this manner, Dr. Bosland would like some seed from the same seed packet from which you got the bell peppers. However, the science of genetics does not support the idea that cucumbers planted next to watermelons will ruin the melons or that hot peppers planted next to bell peppers will make the bell peppers hot. It is a fact, however, that sweet corn planted next to field corn will not be as sweet, or super sweet corn next to regular sweet corn will not be as sweet. That is because you eat the seed of corn and the pollen does influence the seed.