Backyard Bliss | An easy-to-grow alternative to melons

Perennial edible plants like pepinos are great for creating a low maintenance, productive garden that results in better soil health, high yields and less input. Pictures: Hannah Moloney.
Perennial edible plants like pepinos are great for creating a low maintenance, productive garden that results in better soil health, high yields and less input. Pictures: Hannah Moloney.

Do you know about the perennial fruiting bush, pepino (solanum muricatum) yet?

It's a beauty. Sometimes known as melon pear, it's a shrubby climber or ground creeper originally from South America. We grow it throughout our orchard and love it's fresh melon flavour.

A hardy plant, pepinos (also known as pepino dulce) thrive in a temperate climate. While they are apparently quite frost sensitive, we actually know someone who grows pepinos in an area with strong frosts and occasional snow, and the plant is still doing really well.

If you have strong frosts and still want to give it a go, I'd recommend planting it in the sunniest, most protected place in your garden ideally with some overhead coverage (vegetative or otherwise) to soften the impacts of frost.

Being in the solanaceae family, they're related to other fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers.

The fruits vary in size, ranging from something like a large passionfruit to 15 to 20cm long. Unsurprisingly, if you have good soil health and consistent moisture you'll end up with nice fat pepinos. FYI, like lots of food plants they prefer a neutral-ish pH.

You know they're ready to harvest when they turn yellow and develop some purple stripes/markings. It's not recommended to pick them before this as they won't be as sweet. However, when I have accidentally knocked some off the bush, I've just left them on my kitchen bench to ripen over a few days and they still taste delicious - phew.

Growing your own pepinos

Pepinos are wonderfully easy to grow and while you can grow them from seed they're more commonly grown from cuttings.

Just take a cutting of around 10cm, leaving a small amount of leaf at the end, and place them in some soil mix with really good drainage.

You can also layer them in the ground, which just means you lay one of the branches on top of the soil and bury a portion of it - this will inspire it to form roots. You can then cut it free from the original plant and move it to your desired area.

There are around nine different varieties available to people to grow (although I've only seen this one in Australia), so be sure to research what one grows best in your region.

We eat them fresh and apparently you can eat their skin - but we don't. You can include them in a fruit salad, on top of your morning porridge - basically treat them like a melon.

If you're looking to create a low maintenance, productive garden, plants like pepinos are absolute gold.

We're slowly but surely growing more and more *perennial* edibles over annuals as they generally result in better soil health, high yields, less inputs and less time required from us. What's not to love?!

  • Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a landscape design and education enterprise regenerating land and lifestyles.