Growing watermelons in Kenya: One bite into a sweet, juicy watermelon can brighten a gloomy day. The fruit is popular in Kenya and can be found in any major market. It has a high demand, which makes it a profitable fruit to grow. With a growing concern among Kenyans to stay healthy, watermelons are an instant favorite as they are mostly made of water, are plenty in nutrients and are low in calories. The best part is growing watermelons in Kenya is easy, you can reap a lot of profit from a mere acre of land. Watermelons need space to grow because of their vines, so make sure you space them well.
Growing watermelons in Kenya
You need at least an acre of land to grow watermelons. You can grow them on a bigger farm, depending on your market needs. They grow best in hot areas; Machakos, Kajiado and the coastal region are popular watermelon growers. They need hot weather to produce sweet fruit. They can also grow in warm weather, and can be found in places like Nyeri and the highlands. However, watermelons grown in in warm weather are less sweeter and of lower quality than those grown in the hotter regions. Watermelons do not do well in cold weather.
Watermelons take about 80 to 100 days to reach maturity. The seeds are planted directly into the soil (a nursery bed is not necessary) which should be warm. For cooler climates, place a black plastic cover over the planting area to warm up the soil. They should be placed 1 inch deep into the soil and watered regularly until they germinate, after which too much water may cause them to grow poorly. Therefore, one should avoid planting them in naturally wet soil. Plant the seeds 1 meter between the plants and 1.5 meters between the rows, keeping in mind that the vines are long and winding. Weed regularly as weeds can kill the plant. One advantage of watermelons is that they are resistant to diseases. Melons need warm temperatures (up to 80°F during the day) and a long growing season.
The cost of producing watermelons is low, one acre of land may require about Kshs 40,000. A kilogram of seeds costs about Kshs 3500. One bag is enough for an acre of land. The way you space during planting is very crucial.
Popular watermelon seeds in Kenya are Sugar baby, Sukari F1, Zuri F1, Rose F1, Daytona F1, Pato F1, Ealy Scarlet F1 among others. Hybrid breeds produce the best results, and their seeds are readily available in local markets as well as the Kenya Seed Company. These breeds are more resistant to diseases.
If you want to know whether watermelons have ripened, tap their tough covering with your finger. If they produce a dull sound, it means they are ready. You can also check the bottom part that lies on the ground; if it’s yellow, the fruit has ripened.
An acre of land can produce over 15,000 fruits, each weighing between 8 kg to 12 kg or more, depending on the breed. Let’s say you produce 13,000 watermelons during the first harvest, you can easily make Kshs 1,300,000 if you sell each at Kshs 100. You can also sell to neighboring countries like Uganda at a higher price of between Kshs 200 and Kshs 300 per watermelon, which is indeed a killing, considering how much production costs were. Even better, watermelons can be harvested twice a year, making it absolutely possible to reap millions!
Growing watermelons in Kenya: Takeaways:
- Amend soil with aged manure, seaweed, and/or compost before planting. Watermelons are heavy feeders.
- Watermelons prefer a soil pH between 6 and 6.8.
- Growing the vines in raised rows, known as hills, ensures good drainage and will hold the sun’s heat longer. Space the plants about 2 feet apart in a 5-foot-wide hill.
- If you’re growing in rows, space 6 feet by 6 feet apart.
- Watermelons like loamy, well-drained soil. Handle them gently when you transplant.
- After you transplant, cover the plants with row covers to keep pests at bay. You’ll remove the row covers when you see both male and female flowers on the vine.
- Mulching with black plastic 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 soil moist, but not waterlogged. Water at the vine’s base in the morning, and try to avoid wetting the leaves and avoid overhead watering. Reduce watering once fruit are growing. Dry weather produces the sweetest melon.
- If you choose to fertilize (and many do), make sure it delivers more nitrogen than phosphorus and potassium. However, after flowering begins, use a fertilizer with less nitrogen. We like to use liquid seaweed.
- Pruning isn’t necessary, but vine productivity may be improved if you do not allow lateral (side) vines to grow and stick to the main vine. When the plant is young, just cut off the end buds as they form (before the side shoots become vines). You can also pinch off some blossoms to focus the energy on fewer melons (though it’s a challenge to kill off a potential fruit).
- Vines produce male and female flowers separately on the same plant. They often begin producing male flowers several weeks before the females 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 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 cardboard or straw between the fruit and the soil.
- Cucumber Beetles
- Squash Vine Borer Moths
- Fusarium Wilt