BY NDERITU KAMUNYA.
You can earn upto Sh300,000 in three months from one acre of watermelon. This is from a yield of 20tons @20 per kg earning you almost Sh 400,000.
What matters is how you handle the watermelons when harvesting and while transporting to the market. If not properly handled, spoilt watermelons will indeed reduce your income. The cost of production is estimated at Sh100,000 per acre.
Watermelon is planted directly from seeds. Although other people prefer planting them on nursery then transferring the later. It all comes to your own decision.
There are several varieties that are suitable in Kenya. They include:
- Sukari F1 Hybrid- this averages 7kgs per fruit and is very popular due to its size and sweetness.
- Early scarlet F1.
- Sugar baby, who fruits average 3-4kgs and crops mature early 62-80days.
- Charleston grey variety fruits that average 9kg and is late maturing 85-110 days. It is also the best drought resistant variety.
- Pato F1 it’s as sweet as Sukari F1.
- Sweet beauty- which it takes 80 days of maturity and has red-flesh.
- Golden midget which takes 70days to mature. Bears petite, yellow skinned with pink flesh.
Spacing of watermelon generally is 1.5m from row to row and 1m from plant to plant. Watermelon can grow best in hot dry areas under irrigation and rain-fed in marginal areas. Watermelon can also perform well in higher areas during hot season under irrigation. When under irrigation develop a good systematic watering system since fruits become stressed when the pattern changes and this affect the fruit development and spray program.
Watermelon requires lots of water and nutrients. Thus a farmer must have a stable source of water and the soil should be rich of nutrients. If not, a farmer should add organic fertilizer.
While Watermelon requires a lot of water it also needs a lot of sun. It is good to note that watermelons do not cope well with extreme weather conditions. Humid and foggy conditions are the best weather conditions for fungal diseases and this will wipe out all the watermelon in no time. Thus, temperatures of about 20c-25c are the best to grow and ripen watermelons.
Start the water melon seeds in the ground, right where they are supposed to grow. Though some people do transplant them, it is better to know that they may not adapt well at first after the transplant hence others may die or take time to recover. In order to get it right, put manure to the ground before planting and plough well to make sure they mix well with the soil. Watermelons grow well in soils with alkaline PH. It is therefore advisable to add lime to the soil so as to maintain the alkaline PH. This should be done at an interval of 3 years.
Remember that watermelons germinate in 7 days and the first fruits are seen from day 30. It’s believed boron helps the plants to produce sweet fruits.
Taking care of watermelons
- Mulching with black plastics will serve multiple purposes: it will warm the soil, hinder weed growth, and keep developing fruits clean.
- Watering is very important from planting until fruit begins to form. While melon plants are growing, blooming, and setting fruit, they need 1 to 2 inches of water per week.
- Keep the soil always moist but not waterlogged. Water at the vine base in the morning, and try to avoid wetting the leaves and avoid overhead watering. Reduce watering once the fruits are growing. Dry weather produces the sweetest melons.
- If you choose to fertilize make sure it delivers more nitrogen than phosphorous and potassium. However after flowering begins use a fertilizer with less nitrogen.
- Pruning isn’t necessary, but vine productivity may be improved if you do not allow lateral vines to grow and stick to the main vine. When the plant is young, just cut off the end buds as they form before they become vines. You can also pinch off some blossoms to focus the energy on fewer melons .
- Vines produce male and female flowers separately on the same plant. They often begin producing male flowers several weeks before the males appear. Do not be concerned if the male flowers fall off. The female flowers, (which have a swollen bulb at the base) will stay on the vine and bear a fruit.
- Blossoms require pollination to set fruit, so be kind to the bees.
- As fruit is ripening, prevent rotting by gently lifting it and putting some cardboard or straw between the fruit and the soil.
It’s important to weed the land by removing weeds that compete for water and nutrients with the plant. This can be done the third or the second week after germination using herbicides or jembes.
Watermelon’s maturity depends on the breed. As stated above, some species vary from the other but all fall under a maturity period of 80-100 days. In order to see if the fruit is ready for market turn the fruit around to see if the fruit is having a yellow patch on the side on which its lying on the ground with. If it is difficult to pass your finger nail in the watermelon, it’s well ready for harvest and you can even confirm by cutting one to see if it has matured. They are ready for harvest if matured. You can also thump it. If the watermelon sounds hollow, its ripe. You can also check on the tendrils. If it’s green, wait. If it’s half dead the watermelon is nearly ripe or ripe.
PEST AND DISEASES CONTROL.
The major and common diseases of watermelon are the leaf spot, dumping off, powdery mildew and blight. It can also be attacked by Beetles, mites, leaf miners and thrips.
Dumping off is a fungal disease that causes the seed to rot before they germinate.
Spider mites are serious pests of watermelons especially during hot, dry weather and they feed on the plant sap and can defoliate vines in a few weeks. Leaf miners cause injuries to leaves resulting to destruction of leaf tissue.
Thrips are insects which invade flowers and feed on plant juice, they are visible to the naked eye.
Always use recommended fungicides, insecticides and herbicides and this are available in local agrovets. Always read the labels and follow instructions. This will not only help to protect your plant, but will also protect your health and environment. Apply chemicals using appropriate equipment at the recommended application rate. The labels should provide information on recommended use, ingredients, mode of action, and formulation of the product.