As an edible fruit, melons are very rich in 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 room each plant will require.
The Victorians were the pioneers of growing exotic flowers, vegetables and fruit in their gardens and hothouses. This obsession grew as new varieties of seed were transported from warm and tropical climates. One such seed belonged to the melon.
Below, is a solid method for growing large, sweet melons without the use of a greenhouse. It will not cost too much to set up. I should point out that there are many varieties of melon to choose from. For the sake of this article, I will focus on just one common variety – Honeydew.
A cold frame can easily be adapted for growing melons in the UK. The Honeydew melon originated from Asia, so a warm and humid growing environment is essential. I would also suggest that you place your melon plants in an area where you haven’t recently grown any melons, pumpkins, courgettes or cucumbers. This will lower the risk of your melon plants developing mildew.
- 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 pockets.
- The 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 plant the melon seeds.
- Add growing medium: Add an even mixture of good quality topsoil and well-rotted manure or compost. Fill to a depth of about a foot and a half 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 2 young melon plants, evenly spaced. You can also plant seeds directly. I’d suggest you place two melon seeds into each position. After germination, remove the weaker of each pair. In this way, you are guaranteeing two strong plants.
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. 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.
- 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: you can use fish blood and bone. If you prefer the vegetarian approach, use soft-rock phosphate. This 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 warm days and 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 via insects. Plants English marigolds around the outside of the cold frame to encourage pollinators. Melons produce 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 melon growth and quality.
- 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)
- Edonis F1 Hybrid
- Eldoraro F1 Hybrid
- Small Shining Light
- Galia F1
- Blacktail Mountain (Watermelon)
- Anguria Valentina F1 Hybrid (Watermelon)
Extra growing tips
You may also try growing melons on the top of compost heaps. The warmth from the heap should be enough to encourage a good crop. The plants will also make use of the nutrients from the compost below as well as add a little interest to an unsightly part of the garden.