Watermelon farming in Kenya is what is behind the fruit known for being juicy and sweet. Known to reduce stress by researchers watermelons have benefits like reducing fatigue. Potassium, Vitamin C, lycopene and iron found in watermelon drives away any feeling of fatigue you may experience. It is a nutritious fruit. It is low in calories and has no fat , this makes it an ideal diet fruit.
Planting an acre of watermelon costs around 15,000 Ksh if you own the land. An acre gives an average return of 70,000 – 80,000 Ksh. If you are hiring land factor in the rates. The demand for watermelons is consistent all year round. This means that watermelon farming in Kenya is easy to start and profitable.
Growing watermelon is simple. Once they sprout, watermelon plants require very little maintenance. Most of the time, you just leave them alone and watch them grow. There are many different varieties of watermelon. In recent decades, seedless watermelon varieties have been developed that are easier to eat. When most people think of eating watermelon, summer picnics come to mind – a nice, cold slice of watermelon on a hot day is a real treat. However, there are lots of other ways to use watermelon. Because it has a very high water content, it’s not possible to store watermelon for long periods of time.
Watermelon Farming in Kenya: Growing Watermelon Patch
When raising watermelon, garden space is the main issue. Watermelons grow on vining plants. These vines spread out along the ground and can reach 15 feet in length. Since the plants get so large, it’s not really practical to grow watermelons in containers. Newer bush watermelon varieties have become available in recent years. The vines on these plants may only grow 4-5 feet long. However, these bush varieties should still be planted in a traditional garden for best results.
Watermelon seeds are usually sowed directly in the garden. It’s possible to start growing seedlings indoors and them transplant them into the garden. However, watermelons don’t like it when their root system is disturbed. Watermelons need to be planted where they get at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Sunlight is crucial for fruit development. Most watermelon plants will produce 4-5 fruit per vine. The fruit is usually ready for harvest 75-100 days after planting, depending on the variety.
Watermelons have a good resistance to disease and pest problems. If planted in nutrient rich soil, watermelons don’t usually need to be fertilized. They require a fair amount of water for the first few weeks of growth. When the fruit sets, you can almost stop watering the plants. As the fruit develops, the less water the plant gets – the better. Less water will increase the sugar content and concentration in the fruit, leading to sweeter, more crisp melons.
When planting watermelon, choose a variety that appeals to you. Watermelons can be as small as 3 pounds or as large as 200 pounds, depending on the variety. Some varieties are seedless. Others have orange flesh, as opposed to red.
After you’ve chosen the variety you want to plant, make sure the soil has been well tilled. The dirt should be loose and airy down to a depth of 8-10 inches. If you have fairly dense soil, work some organic material into the dirt. This might include well rotted manure, grass clippings or compost. Additionally, make sure you have enough space in your garden. Watermelons need plenty of room so you should allow 6-8 feet between plants. You should select a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight everyday.
When planting watermelon, the seeds are usually directly sowed in the garden. Watermelon plants don’t tolerate root disturbance very well, so transplanting seedlings usually leads to a high failure rate.
Wait until to soil temperatures have warmed to 70 degrees F before planting watermelon. Using a hoe or garden rake, create mounds or hills that are 4 feet across and about 6 inches high. Using the end of a hoe or your finger, make holes in the mounds 1 inch deep and 6-8 inches apart. Place a seed in each hole and cover with loose soil. You will be able to fit 7-8 seeds in each mound. After planting, water the seeds in thoroughly.
Watermelon Varieties in Kenya – What’s the Difference?
There are several watermelon varieties available to the backyard vegetable gardener. Some varieties are seedless. others have orange or yellow flesh, instead of red. Some varieties are small, while others can grow to more than 200 pounds. There’s even a variety that has speckled skin that resembles the moon and stars in the night sky.
Here’s a list of some more common watermelon varieties in Kenya, along with fruit and plant descriptions.
Watermelon on Vine
- Sugar Baby – matures in 75 days, very sweet melons weighing 9 pounds, red flesh, short vining plants, good for limited space
- Moon and Stars – matures in 95 days, dark green skin with yellow spots resembling moon and stars in the night sky, sweet melons reach 40 pounds, pink to red flesh
- Black Diamond – matures in 90 days, very round melon weighs up to 75 pounds, vibrant red flesh, good all-around watermelon
- Yellow Crimson – matures in 80 days, round melons reach 20 pounds, bright yellow flesh with black seeds, sweet taste
- Orange Tendersweet – matures in 85 days, bright orange flesh with white seeds, sweet and tender, melons reach 25 pounds
- Orangeglo – matures in 90 days, very sweet and crisp, oval-shaped melons average 40 pounds, bright orange flesh with off-white seeds
- Kleckley’s Sweet – matures in 85 days, extra crisp and sweet, thin rind, red flesh with white seeds, 40 pound melons, heirloom variety
- Big Crimson – matures in 90 days, this variety of watermelon produces 30 pound melons, sweet, red flesh, dark green skin
- Charleston Gray – matures in 85 days, long vigorous vines, light green skin with sweet red flesh, 30 pounds
- Crimson Sweet – matures in 85 days, this watermelon variety produces 25 pound melons with sweet red flesh, high sugar content, thin rinds, very disease resistant
- Jubilee – matures in 95 days, 40 pound melons with green stripes and red flesh, very fine texture, grows well in hot weather
- Louisiana Sweet – matures in 90 days, oblong melons reach 25 pounds, bright red flesh is crisp and sweet, black seeds
- Ruby Hybrid Seedless – matures in 85 days, oval shaped melons reach 8 pounds, crisp and super sweet flesh, seedless
- Carolina Cross – matures in 100 days, this watermelon variety produces 200+ pound melons, sweet red flesh, oblong shape
- Georgia Rattlesnake – matures in 90 days, pale green stripes resemble a snake skin, bright pink flesh, sweet and crisp, reaches 30 pounds, heirloom variety
- Congo – matures in 90 days, round melons reach 35 pounds, green stripes, sweet red flesh and thick rinds
- Snack Pack – matures in 75 days, 3-4 pound round melons, sweet red flesh, seedless, solid dark green skin
- Sugarlee – matures in 85 days, 15 pound melons, very sweet red flesh, green striped rinds, disease resistant
After the seedlings emerge and are a couple of inches long, you should keep the 3 most promising plants and pull the rest out of the ground. This process is known as “thinning”. Because watermelons have such a high water content, too many plants in one mound will lead to poor fruit production. More plants competing for the same amount of water and nutrients will lead to poorly formed watermelons.
Now that you’re done planting your watermelon patch, you can think about watering and fertilizing your plants for maximum fruit production.
Watering and Fertilizing Watermelon
You should think about fertilizing watermelon after the vines begin to spread out and again when the blossoms appear and the fruit is set. You should think about watering your watermelon patch for the first few weeks after planting the seeds.
Watermelon plants have somewhat deep roots that are good at extracting moisture from the soil. Until these roots are developed, you should water the plants regularly with slow, deep soaks. For the first 3 weeks after planting, water your watermelon patch once or twice a week if no rain falls in your area. After the seeds have sprouted, scale back the watering to once every 10 days or so. When the vines begin to spread out, you can stop watering all together. As long as rain falls every 2 weeks, you won’t have to water your watermelons again. After the fruit begins to get large, stop watering for good, even if no rain falls. This will allow the sugars in the fruit to concentrate and the flesh to stay crisp. This makes for much better tasting watermelon.
Wait until the vines begin to spread out before fertilizing watermelon. If using a granular fertilizer, choose a balanced one like a 10-10-10 or 5-5-5. These three numbers mean that there are balanced amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphate in the fertilizer. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for the correct dosage. Most granular fertilizers are applied at a rate of 1 1/2 pounds per 100 square feet. Scatter the fertilizer around the plants and water it in well. Make sure that the fertilizer does not come in contact with the plant, as this may cause the plant to burn. A water-soluble type fertilizer also works well. A second application of fertilizer can be used after the blossoms appear and the fruit begins to set. This will ensure that the plants are getting the energy they need to produce high quality fruit.
Now that you know about watering and fertilizing watermelons, it’s time to think about harvesting them.
Curious About Harvesting Watermelon?
Like most other fruits and vegetables, timing is everything when it comes to harvesting watermelon. Pick the fruit too soon and it won’t be sweet. Wait too long to pick the fruit, and it may be mushy and unappealing.
Watermelon Ready For Harvest
There are four steps to take to tell if your watermelon is ready for harvest. If all of these “tests” indicate that the watermelon is ready to be picked, you know you’re in for a real treat.
Inspect the watermelon. If it has lost its shiny appearance, you’re off to a good start.
Thump the watermelon. Rap it with your knuckles. If it sounds hollow inside, it’s getting close to being ready.
Inspect the stem. You should see a spiral coil near the stem of the watermelon. If the coil is brown and dried up, the melon is almost ready to be picked.
Inspect the bottom of the watermelon. Look at the spot that was laying on the ground. If it’s still white, the watermelon isn’t ready yet. If the spot has turned a rich yellow color, go ahead and harvest the watemelon.
If you always follow these four steps when harvesting watermelon, you can be assured that the fruit you pick will be sweet, crisp and in peak condition to eat.
After picking watermelons, you should store them in the refrigerator if at all possible. Some varieties of watermelon are just too big to fit in the fridge. They can be kept in a cooler with some ice for a day or so. Unfortunately, watermelon doesn’t keep well for very long, even in the refrigerator. A whole watermelon will keep for 7-10 days in the fridge. A cut watermelon will last 4-5 days, as long as it is covered. Watermelon is best served cold. Ideally, you would harvest watermelon in the morning, chill it in the fridge and eat it later the same day. Some backyard vegetable gardeners choose to grow smaller melons because they know they will fit whole in the refrigerator and keep slightly longer.
Starting Watermelon Farming In Kenya
We will start with planting a watermelon in Kenya in just ten easy steps
Choose a location in your shamba and prepare the soil. Choose loamy well drained soil. Choose a position away from shade that can allow for at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. Watermelons produce vines leave at least a space of 1.8 meters between rows.
Till the soil for the beds thoroughly, break the earth well . remove any weeds or vegetation if there are.
Use a tractor or garden hoe to form mounds of earth (hills) to plant seeds in. Space these 2- 6 feet apart, depending on the size of your garden. This ensures that the soil is loose and the roots grow well. it increases air flow to the plants . this also ensures that excess moisture drains away from direct contact with the roots of your plant. small scale watermelon farming in Kenya may not need a tractor.
Select the variety of watermelon you want to grow. Watermelons come in sizes ranging from 1.3 kg to 32 kg and in either red or yellow flesh. Jubilee, Charleston Grey, and Congo are large, cylindrical varieties. While Sugar Baby and Ice Box are smaller, globe shaped types. Farmers practicing watermelon farming in Kenya can buy from trusted suppliers locally.
Form a flat, slightly concave depression on the top of the hill, and then make three or four holes in the soil with a tool or your finger, 2.5cm deep. You can put up to four seeds in a hole. Cover the depression with surrounding soil and press lightly. This prevents moisture from escaping.
Watch for sprouts to appear. The seeds will sprout and plants will emerge within 7-10 days, depending on the soil temperature and the depth they are covered when planted. Remember to water close to the ground to for water to reach the small roots.
Cover hill with a suitable material after the plants have reached a height of about 10cm. You can choose dry grass, saw dust, or compost. Try to apply the mulch as close to the plants as possible to keep away weeds, retain moisture, and to keep the soil from overheating from direct sunlight around the shallow, new roots.
After the flowering, water at least every 3 days in dry weather. Do not water a lot. Watermelons generally have a low water requirement.
Weed regularly. Weed around base, along and ahead of the vines.
Harvest your water melons. Under ideal conditions when practicing watermelon farming in Kenya, maturity to full sweetness is in about three months of warm weather.
To harvest, cut the watermelons from the vine, using a knife or garden shears.
To test the ripeness of a watermelon, thump it. A dull noise sounding back means that it has ripened. Also, check the underside – if it is pale yellow then it is ripe.