The trial is investigating the production system at a commercial scale as UK growers respond to climate change. Nearly 1,000 melons of four varieties are currently being cultivated in table-top grow bags and some of these will be harvested during October.
If the experiment is deemed a success, EMR scientists and farm staff will set about further testing, analysing and identifying melon varieties suitable for growing on table-top production in UK conditions. Early results from the work indicate that melons may be suitable as a catch-crop – before or after main crops of strawberry.
Peter Gregory, Chief Executive of East Malling Research, said: “As our climate continues to warm, so growers will be presented with significant crop production challenges. One option, as we seek to address the increasing issue of long-term food security, will be for growers to adapt their growing systems – including the development of novel crops.”
Graham Caspell, Commercial Farm Manager at East Malling, said: “We proved that we can grow melons in Kent after successfully growing more than 9,000 of them here last year.
“What we don’t yet know is if we can grow the crop more intensively using the table-top, grow bag method, which makes for easier picking and eliminates the possible damage caused to crops by soil-borne pests and diseases. It would be important to integrate melons within a wider fruit production system rather than consider them as being the main crop in an annual cycle.
“Kent could soon be the UK hub for novel fruits such as apricots, kiwifruit and melons, as climate change provides opportunities to grow fruits that supermarkets have traditionally sourced from other parts of the world.”
The melons are being grown in 150 metres of polytunnels as part of wider novel-crops trials funded by the East Malling Trust.
For more information on EMR visit www.emr.ac.uk