As an edible fruit, melons are very rich in both vitamins A and C, and also potassium. Many people shy away from growing melons UK style. This is usually because they either don’t have the luxury of a heated greenhouse or are worried about the growing space each melon plant requires.
In the UK, the Victorians were the pioneers of growing exotic flowers, vegetables and fruit in their gardens and hothouses. This obsession grew as new species and varieties of seed were transported to the British Isles from warm and tropical climates. One such import, was the humble melon.
In this article, I will explore a tried and tested method for growing large, sweet melons without the use of a heated greenhouse. The good news is, it will not cost you too much to set up. There are many varieties of melon to choose from and try out. For the sake of this article, I will focus on just one common variety – ‘Honeydew.’
Cold frame Melons
- Planting Position: Find a good spot in the garden or allotment with full sun. A slope or terrace would be perfect. Shelter your plants from winds and frost
- Ideal dimensions for your cold frame: 70 cm high, 200 cm long and 70 cm wide
- Raise it up: If you already have a cold frame, then raise the height with bricks or wooden sleepers. From ground level to lid, the cold frame should be around about 70 cm high. This will increase the overall depth of the soil in which you will plant the melon seeds
- Add growing medium: Add an even mixture of good quality topsoil and well-rotted manure or compost. Donkey manure is especially good for growing melons. Fill to a depth of about a foot and a half or so. Once settled, there should be a gap between the growing medium and the lid of about 20-25 cm
- Plant melons: After all risk of frost has passed, introduce two young melon plants, evenly spaced. You can also plant melon seeds directly. I’d suggest you place two seeds into each growing position. After germination, remove the weaker of each pair. In this way, you are guaranteeing two strong plants, no matter what
Aftercare for melon plants
Now that your melon plants have settled into their new home, ensure that they are watered regularly. Never let them dry out! Don’t over water as this may result in tasteless or rotten fruit and plants. Like many plants, melons require good drainage. Mix a little grit and compost into the growing medium. During warmer days, prop open the lid of your cold frame to allow air circulation. To avoid the development of powdery mildew, cover the soil beneath with straw, weed suppressing membrane or cardboard. The mildew spore may be in the soil and can transfer onto the leaves whilst watering.
- Encourage growth: Pinch out the growing tips of each plant once they reach the 5th-leaf stage. This will encourage side shoots and eventually more fruit. Then choose 4 strong side shoots and remove any others
- Feed your plants with phosphates: I recommend you use fish blood and bone. If you prefer the vegetarian/vegan approach, try using soft-rock phosphate. Feeding should be done every 10-14 days
- Maintenance: It might be worth covering the soil with weed suppressing membrane to keep weeding to a minimum. This is easily done before planting. Never use a hoe around your melon plants. Melon roots grow close to the surface of the soil and any disruption may hinder growth
- Temperature control: Open the cold frame during very warm days and remember to close at night. For extra protection, cover your melon plants with garden fleece overnight until late June or as flowers appear
- Pollination: This can either be done by hand with a small paintbrush, or by insects such a bees. Plant English marigolds around the outside of the cold frame to encourage pollinators. It is important to note that melons produce both male and female flowers. The male flowers have a stamen and the female a swollen flower-base
- Best melon: Select the best 4 fruits on each vine and remove all others. This will allow each plant to put as much energy into fruit development and quality as possible
- Reduce to ripen fruit: Once the leaves start to die off and flower production ends, cut down on feed and watering. This will allow for the fruit to harden and ripen. Remove any new growth or flower heads at this point
Good UK-safe melon variety to try
- Castella (Amber Nectar)
- Purseus F1 Hyrid
- Eldoraro F1 Hybrid
- Honey Bun
- Galia F1
- Blacktail Mountain (Watermelon)
- Anguria Valentina F1 Hybrid (Watermelon)
Extra growing tips
You may also try growing melons on the top of a compost heap in full sun. The warmth from the heap should be enough to encourage a good crop of delicious melons. Each plant will make use of the nutrients from the compost as well as add a little interest to an unsightly part of the garden.