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How to farm big watermelons

By Alex Wachira
Amos Morori harvests watermelons on his farm along River Kerio in Elgeyo Marakwet County. [Kevin Tunoi, Standard]

The watermelon is a sweet juicy nutritious fruit that is rich in vitamins C, A and B6 and minerals good for human health. It helps in controlling blood pressure, healthy skin and boosting the immune system.

Farming watermelons is one of the profitable ventures that bring in huge returns with minimal investment and within a very short time.

Watermelons are mainly composed of water and usually eaten raw with a ready market in Kenya.

According to online publication, Greenlife Crop Protection greenlife.co.ke, watermelon farming requires minimal management practices and does well mostly in the hot regions of Kenya.

Carol Mutua from the Department of Crops, Horticulture, and Soils, Egerton University says watermelons do well in fertile loamy or sandy well-drained soils that are rich in nutrients and slightly acidic.

The PH level should range from 6.0 to 6.8.

They require optimum rainfall for adequate water supply though a farmer may practice irrigation to maintain the moisture during the dry season.

Popular varieties of watermelons entail hybrid seeds such as Sukari F1, Zuri F1, Lahat F1, Kubwa F1, Sweet Rose F1, and Charleston grey, the Sugar Baby and Crimson Sweet.

The most popular variety in Kenya in high demand is the Sukari F1 for its early maturity, sweetness, and freshness and has bigger, heavier fruits.

Hybrid seeds are preferred as they produce better yields and are resistant to diseases.

The seeds germinate in seven days and take three to four months to grow to maturity.

Watermelons require a lot of water, warmth and adequate space to grow.

Temperatures should range from 15 to 30 degrees Celsius with altitudes of up to 1500 metres with lowlands being the best.

Watermelons seeds are planted directly to the soil with a recommended spacing of 1.5 metres between the rows and one metre between the crops.

Watermelons vines spread all over the ground. Mulching should only be done when the vines are fully grown to avoid worms’ infestation.

Mulching helps save on water and adds soil nutrients on decomposing.

Watermelons make use of bees for pollination however hand pollination can also be practiced.

A regular top dressing of fertilisers is necessary for maximum yields. Nitrogen is required to prevent the leaves from turning yellow.

Carol adds that Phosphorus and potassium both if required should also, be applied at the time of planting.

Drip irrigation can be used in areas with inadequate irrigation to save on water with irrigation producing the best melons.

Livestock manure should be added to soils with little organic matter to boost fertility.

A farmer should remember to weed out for the watermelons not to compete for nutrients, water and sunlight and shelter pests and diseases lowering yields.

A fully grown mature watermelon can weigh up to 12 kilograms.

Watermelons' hard outer cover protects it from most pests and helps in its preservation to stay longer making harvest losses fewer.

Watermelons are known to be ready for harvesting when they develop a light coloured patch at the bottom, tendrils dry up and the outer lid becomes harder and less colourful.

Common pests that attack watermelons include spider mites, leaf miners, aphids, cucumber beetle caterpillars and thrips.

Diseases known to affect watermelon farming entail powdery mildew, leaf spots, blight, fusarium wilt, downy mildew, mosaic, damping off and anthracnose.

Pests and diseases can be controlled by the use of insecticides, pesticides, and fungicides.

After harvesting Greenlife Crop Protection greenlife.co.ke notes that watermelons should be handled with care as they are highly delicate prone to breakages and bruising with falling and tossing.

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