Watermelon is now one of the highest income earners for farmers especially in the warmer parts of the country in Embu, Kirinyaga, Machakos, and along the coast. The bulky fruit is highly sought after during the dry season due to its high water content. It contains 92% water by volume and the sugary juice quenches thirst during the hot season.
Benefits of watermelon
The nutritional benefits of watermelon include body rehydration, assists in weight loss, body pH stabilization, toxins removal by assisting kidneys, lowers cholesterol, and regulates body blood pressure. Eating bakes seeds is good for increasing men's libido due to high levels of zinc and citrulline. the watermelon also has skin and hair improvement properties due to the presence of Vitamin A and C.
Watermelon husbandry practices
Watermelon prefers slightly acidic soils with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8. They do well from sea level to 1500 meters above sea level. Watermelon is a deep-rooted crop and does well in medium rainfall. The normal spacing within farms is around 1meter by 1 meter and plants 2 seeds per hole. However, due to the high cost of F1 seed, most farmers plant 1 seed per hole and gap later. During planting, the application of 5 tonnes of manure per acre is recommended as it responds well to high nutrition. The seed rate per acre is 500 grams.
The main variety being planted by farmers is Sukari F1 due to its short growth period of 80 days unlike others like Charleston Gray whose period is 100 days. It is also liked due to its hard rind which makes insect damage difficult. During planting apply 50 kg DAP fertilizer per acre equivalent to 10 grams per planting hole. CAN is applied in two split applications during branching and at flower setting where a teaspoon is applied per hill at about 5 cm away from the stem.
Pests and Diseases of watermelon
Watermelon is attacked by a myriad of pests with the main ones being the aphids and mites. In some cases, you may find nematodes and whiteflies. These pests are controlled using recommended insecticides.
Melon aphids can be controlled using beetles such Epilachna spp as biological control.
As the aphids increase, the plant leaves yellow and curl. Honeydew is noticed as the populations increase and get a build-up of sooty mold. Aphids may transmit viruses that cause watermelon mosaic disease. Since virus transmission occurs within 20seconds of feeding you may not avoid the diseases but you can oils which may assist in reducing virus transmission. However, you can use chemicals such as Imidacloprid or Acetameprid. The dosages to be used will depend on the concentration of the formulation and the specific chemical compound so it's advisable to read the instructions on the packaging label.
Melon mites - controlled by spraying with a miticide such as Abermectin or Emamectin benzoate.
Excess nitrogen fertilizer application creates good conditions for spider mite damage. You can also control mites using insecticidal soaps and neem oil, however, use these sprays during the cool part of the day to reduce plant damage. The damage by mites first appears as yellow clustered spots on the upper leaf surface, which may cause leaf death as pale yellow portions eventually dry out and die.
One acre of watermelon will hold about 4000 plants which are encouraged to produce 4 fruits which may weigh between 8 to 12 kgs. If about 3000 plants were to bear 4 fruits each and the fruits to be marketed at Ksh. 100 each the total sales would be Ksh. 1,200,000. If we assumed that the production cost within the 90 days was Ksh. 200,000 then one can easily earn Ksh. 1,000,000 profit. This short duration has made this crop to be attractive to youth farmers coupled with the high incomes realized. This is the crop to plant in the future.