Watermelon farming in Kenya is one of the most profitable farming activities that one can venture into. It is a low investment and extremely high yielding practice. Watermelons are large sweet tasting fruits that are mostly water and this means that most people can consume them translating directly to a large market all over the world. We tel you about the most suitable parts of the country for growing watermelons.
They are also cheap going for anywhere between Ksh. 10 and Ksh. 100. In high end grocery stores such as Zucchini and Chandarana Food Plus watermelon prices in Kenya for a single fruit can go for up to 500 shillings. The watermelon market is not limited by borders with the fruit selling for Ksh. 100 to Ksh. 300 in neighboring Uganda and Tanzania.
It is however not a farmers worry as to whether their product will sell or not as most farmers report middle-men and traders coming to the farms long before the fruit matures asking to buy the produce before they are ready for harvest so they come back later to collect them during the harvest. Watermelon farmers in Kenya have easy access to watermelon seeds as they are sold at many local Agro Vets countrywide. A bag of watermelon seeds weighing 1 kg goes for anywhere between Ksh. 3000 and Ksh. 4000 depending on the watermelon varieties also commonly known as accessions.
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- 1 Benefits of Watermelons
- 2 Watermelon farming guide
- 2.1 Watermelon cultivation requirement
- 2.2 Areas Suitable for watermelon planting in Kenya
- 2.3 How to plant watermelons
- 2.4 Watermelon production per acre in Kenya
Benefits of Watermelons
Watermelon has high water content and this means it is good for staying well hydrated and does not cause and uncomfortable thirst after consumption. Watermelons do not alter the taste of water after you eat them as is the case with mangoes. They have an abundance of vitamins A, C, B6 and even more minerals such as potassium, amino acids, folate and antioxidants while still being a very low calorie fruit. Their sweet watered down taste makes them a favorite fruit served alongside larger meals by caterers. The hard cover of watermelons is an added advantage as it helps in preserving the fruit for longer and even in transit the fruit is free of damage. The hard shell make it impossible for intrusive pests to make it inside the fruit lowering quality and causing losses as is the case with tomatoes that need to get to market as soon as they are harvested. Among other watermelon benefits is that they are high yield investments for farmers that earn a living cultivating them.
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There are multiple varieties available to choose from in Kenya including Sukari F1, the most popular type that takes an average of 80 days to mature. It is known for its hard cover that makes it especially tolerant to pests and keeps it preserved for longer. Watermelon seeds available for retail are:
It is available in most markets and is the most recognizable watermelon variety. It has an outer shell that is dark green in color and are spherically shaped. They have red flesh inside and many seeds as well. The maturity time for this variety is not less than two and a half months after which the fruits are ready to harvest. You can harvest up to 30 tonnes per acre if you plant Sugar Baby.
2. Asali F1
This is a hybrid that is in high demand, the fruits are oblong shaped and they are green in color with stripes of a darker shade of green along the sides. The fruits take a minimum of 85 days to mature and yield very large fruits with sweet red flesh inside. Asali F1 has a yield potential of up to 40 tonnes per acre. An added advantage of this accession is that they are resistant to Fusarium and Anthracnose.
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3. Charleston Grey
Has one of the largest fruit sizes averaging 9 kilograms and the fruit matures between 85 and 110 days. They are cylindrical in shape and have red flesh. These have a yield of about 13000 fruits per acre if it well tilled land and fertilized.
4. Andaman 631 F1
Its flesh is super red and is very sweet. Its rinds are green in color with no pattern. Are suitable for green house irrigation in places with low water availability. They generally mature after 80 days from planting with most fruits weighing an average of 8 kg. They are characterized by very strong vines which makes it easy for fruit setting. The yield of this accession per acre is 30 tonnes if it is well managed.
5. Crimson Sweet
Its flesh is firm and crispy and is deep red with the sweet taste of watermelons. It has the potential to produce 30 tonnes from an acre. A fruit of this variety weighs 8-10 kg. These fruits have green stripes on the sides of different shades, light and dark. This variety is resistant to Anthracnose and Fusarium as well. It takes this variety 85 days to mature.
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6. Sweet Melon Galia F1
This is a unique variety of watermelon that does not have the usual red flesh but instead it is light green in color and its flesh is as juicy as normal watermelon. It has a yellow and brown outer cover. These are much smaller than all other species weighing not less than 1 kilogram and not more than 2kg. This type of watermelon takes anywhere between 65 and 80 days to reach maturity. It has a yield potential of about 25 tonnes on the higher end per acre. Given its small size this means this variety has more fruits per acre.
Other watermelon varieties include:
Crimson Sweet: has sweet red flesh and weighs an average of 12 kg per fruit. It takes 85 days to mature and is favored for its resistance to diseases.
Congo: matures in three month’s time and has sweet red flesh as well. They are as large as the Charleston Grey variety.
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Moon and Stars: named after the patterns on the cover they are large weighing between 9-12 kg and take a minimum of 90 days to mature. This variety has many small yellow circles which are the ‘stars’ and one or two large one called ‘moon’ and thus the name.
Golden Midget: has pink flesh when ripe and its rind is golden in color. It takes 70 days to maturity.
Orangeglo: the oblong shaped fruit weighs 9-12 kg and has sweet orange flesh when ripe. It takes 100 days to ripen for harvest.
Watermelon farming guide
Here we will go through a step by step process of how you can know whether the climate you are in is suitable for watermelon farming, what to do to get the soil ready, a few tips to get your farm in top shape for planting to get the best harvest possible.
Watermelon cultivation requirement
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The most suitable temperature for growing watermelons is anything ranging between 21 degrees and 25 degrees or upwards. The warmer the weather the better for the ripening of the fruit as it approaches maturity as well as for germination of seeds.
Watermelon as the name suggests requires a constant supply of water especially as the fruit germinates and matures. It is important to be in a place that is also humid. Sufficient water supply allows for the fruit to build its succulent flesh. Heavy rainfall at least once a week is enough to keep the soil moist and supply the fruit its need. It is however important to have a lower supply of water as the fruit approaches maturity to avoid having it tasting too watery.
It is best suited to have a farm situated next to a river to ensure constant water supply and cut costs of pumping water in case of low rainfall. Digging trenches can help with that by storing water for up to a week.
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The best type of soil favorable for watermelon cultivation is sandy loam soil that is well aerated and has a high moisture content. The pH of the soil should be alkaline for optimal growth. To get your soil alkalinity to optimal limits you can use lime to make the soil more alkaline. Soils with high nitrogen content are best suited for watermelon cultivation. The fruit also does well in volcanic soils with high moisture content.
Watermelon fertilizer requirements
Fertilizers rich in nitrogen are recommended and they will go a long way in making the soil ready for watermelon growing. The suitable fertilizer to use is compost manure that should be mixed properly with the soil. Ploughing should be done diligently to ensure the manure I mixed into the soil properly. Diligent Ploughing also ensure that the soil is well aerated.
In the third week after germination it is important to weed the farm and keep it free of weeds. This is to reduce the competition for resources between the watermelons and the weeds.
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Pests and diseases and control
Leaf spot, dumping off, blight and powdery mildew are some of the diseases that watermelons are susceptible to. Dumping off is a disease that causes the seeds to rot before they germinate. The control measure is to avoid growing on that field for at least a year to allow the disease fade off.
Bacterial fruit blotch
Bacterial fruit blotch is characterized by appearance of lesions on leafs and sogginess on the lower cotyledons. The seedlings with this disease are not to be transplanted and the fields affected are also not to be planted on for a year.
Leaf spots will result in dark brown patches on the surface of leafs and this will stunt crop development. Prevention and control is by use of Fungicides as soon as runner development begins.
Blight, the worst hitting fungal disease to watermelons starts out with dark patches on the sems of the watermelon runners. This then develop into deep lesions on the stems and it spreads onto leaves causing the same brown spots. As the disease progresses its effects become more apparent on the stem section closer to the leaf petioles as these split open releasing a sticky brown gum that oozes out continuously, Despite the heavy damage to the stems and leaves the disease leaves the fruit unaffected but in order to protect the plant to ensure proper fruit development it is prudent to use fungicides as a control.
Powdery mildew is characterized by white gray dust that appears on the watermelon leaves. It starts off in smaller portions and spreads through the whole leaf killing it. If left unchecked, powdery mildew is bound to cause the plant to be underdeveloped. It is important to catch the infections early on as high humidity encourages the spread. Use of fungicides is a quick and easy solution.
Anthracnose first appears as black spots on the lower side of leaves. In the humid climates these develop into a large mass of spores on leaves that turn grey as the weather gets drier. These affect older leaves and kill them off. The same can be seen in seeds and in young germinated plants that are being transplanted. Seed treatment and use of fungicides are necessary to fight the infection.
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Beetles, leaf miners, mites and thrips are some of the pests that eat into watermelons. Watermelons have an advantage over pests in that their outer rinds are hard to penetrate and thus many species are resistant to them. If you are growing a species that is susceptible to pests they can easily be controlled by pesticides.
Areas Suitable for watermelon planting in Kenya
All places with loamy soil and constant high temperatures and humidity are suitable for watermelon cultivation. These three conditions combines with availability of water and or rainfall are all that’s needed for growing high yielding fruit. These areas include:
- All coastal areas including most parts of Lamu County
- The rich volcanic soils and high temperatures of Semi-Arid Kerio Valley, this goes without saying that most parts of Elgeyo Marakwet county also check all the boxes for watermelon cultivation
- Isiolo County
- Some parts of Garissa county that have water
- Kirinyaga County
- Parts of Loitoktok with sufficient supply of water
- Meru County
- Machakos County
- Some parts of Kitengela
Areas with volcanic soils are many in Kenya but they tend to have low temperatures most of the year which makes them unfit for planting watermelons.
How to plant watermelons
Watermelons can be grown directly from the seed y planting them in well ploughed land that has an abundance of manure. Another option for cultivating watermelons is germinating the seeds in a garden with the seeds in pots. When the seeds germinate, a process which takes anywhere between 7 days to 10 days, the seedlings are transplanted to a farm. It is recommended that the seeds be planted at least 1.5 meters apart so as to ensure there is adequate space for runners for each seedling to spread out without the competition killing some seedlings off. The seedlings that germinate from seeds planted directly require more care as they tend to be more than one seedling germinating from the same point necessitating pruning.
The seedlings planted directly in a farm or garden require that you plant the in raised mounds of soil so that the warmth is kept in the ground longer.
Caring for the watermelon plant
When planting watermelon seeds or transplanting seedlings it is important to take into account the amount of sunlight the plant will receive as they require a minimum of six hours of sunlight a day. Watermelons will begin to develop runners two week after germination. It is at this stage that signs of a pest infestation or infection with disease start to show therefore it is important to monitor closely the growth and be on the lookout for signs of any infections listed above.
When the sprouts start spreading it is important to water them constantly with an interval of once or twice week. In case there is consistent rainfall you can water the sprouts at a lower frequency of about once every 10-12 days. Watermelons develop deep roots when they mature to extract as much water as possible from the ground. One of the more widely known watermelon facts is that as much as 90% of a watermelon is water with the other 10% being other minerals and carbohydrates which the plant has to get minerals from the soil so it is important to stop watering the crop when it is a few weeks to maturity. This will allow the plant to sweeten naturally and the sweeter the fruit the more watermelon buyers in Kenya will want your produce.
When the plant is three weeks old start to fertilize it to ensure steady and sturdy growth. The best fertilizers should contain more nitrogen than potassium and phosphorous. The use of nitrogen rich fertilizers should reduce as the plant matures around the time it starts blossoming and the flowers are visible. The crop has both male and female flowers, the male come first and are later followed by the female flowers that are pollinated by bees and other insect pollinators and fruit develops from the female flower.
Mulching is necessary in the early stages of the crop growth as it ensures that the soils water content is retained longer. Mulching also ensures that the soil temperature remains relatively warm at night.
The plants remain in the same location until the crop is mature and ready for harvesting after this. The vines are strong ad can allow for transplanting but this will only stunt the plant as it will take longer for it to set its roots at a new location. It is also impossible the have it ready again as the deep root system is easily lost if transplanting is attempted late in the development cycle of the fruit.
Watermelon production per acre in Kenya
Watermelons produce a varying amount of fruits at the end of the season with any farms producing at least 15000 fruits regardless of the fruit variety planted at the site initially. This translates to about 20 tonnes of fruit all the way up to 40 tonnes for farms that have been well cultivated.
An acre of land requires at least one bag of seeds that costs Ksh. 3500. This is planted in accordance with the watermelon planting spacing guidelines to ensure maximum yield. The other costs involve Ploughing and weeding which costs an average of Ksh. 3000 per month which translates to Ksh. 12000 for a four month growing period for the varieties that take longest to mature.
The cost of DAP fertilizers is Ksh. 2500 for a 50kg bag. Acquire as many as possible to fit the needs of your farmland. Pesticides and fungicides intended to be used as preventative measures against diseases that may lower yield. This will cost Ksh. 5000 or less depending on the situation on the ground for your farm. The Standard reports use of growth hormones in the watermelon growing in Kenya to encourage uniform growth. Citishooter hormones is used and it costs Ksh. 4000 for every 200 milliliters. These costs come together with labour costs involved in preparing the land bring the total of growing watermelon per acre to Ksh. 40000. It is possible to do some saving in the costs to make this figures lower or higher for a higher yield.
Before you can harvest a watermelon it is key to look out for signs that tell whether it is ripe or not. One of them is that the rinds reduce their shining and become less smooth. Another is that the plant sounds as though it is hollow when it is hit. The plant may show yellow spots on the lower side that is in contact with the ground. At this point the fruit is cut from the sprawling vines and is ready for consumption.
Watermelon prices in Kenya fluctuate depending on the season and demand for the fruit but given a yield of about 15000 fruits per acre with each fruit weighing in at an average of 10kg with a farmer selling to watermelon buyers in Kenya directly from his farm after harvesting at Ksh. 10 per kilogram the farmer collects a total of close to Ksh.1500000 for every acre. Watermelon Kenya cultivation is cheaper than it is in Uganda and Tanzania and hence the fruits from Kenya fetch a premium in these countries although to them it is a discount.
Watermelon growing has the promise of high return on investment but like all business ventures there are risks involved. Use of the wrong kinds of pesticides and fungicides may result in losing all crop grown and incur heavy losses. Watermelon cultivation around the world is spear headed by Asia with most of the continent sitting in hot and wet climate perfectly suited for its cultivation.
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Source: Kenya Breaking News Today
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