When you think of a watermelon, you’ll probably envision a delightful summertime treat. Watermelon is a very sweet fruit, and the natural sweetness it possesses is simply irresistible. It’s a juicy delight, with each bite releasing a cascade of luscious juice that often ends up dripping down the chin. However, despite its many positive attributes, cultivating this cash crop in Kenya can pose challenges for many farmers. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of watermelon cultivation in Kenya, providing valuable insights and guidance on how to successfully grow this beloved fruit in the Kenyan agricultural landscape.
Let’s dive in
A. What are watermelons? A Brief Overview
Watermelons are large, juicy fruits that belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash. They are known for their vibrant red or pink flesh, which is rich in flavour and sweetness. Watermelons are believed to have originated in Africa and have been cultivated for thousands of years.
Medical and Health Benefits of Watermelons
Watermelons are characterized by their high water content, making them incredibly refreshing and hydrating, especially during the hot summer months. They are also a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
Due to their delightful taste and numerous health benefits, watermelons are enjoyed as a popular summertime fruit, often eaten fresh, used in salads, blended into juices and smoothies, or even incorporated into various desserts.
B. Suitable Climate and Growing Conditions
- Warm temperatures between 75 to 90°F (24 to 32°C).
- At least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Well-drained sandy loam or loamy soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5.
- Moderate rainfall of 20 to 30 inches (50 to 75 cm) during the growing season.
- Good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases.
- The growing season typically ranges from 70 to 100 days.
C. Varieties of Watermelons
Cultivation of watermelons takes place in many parts of the world, with varying climates and growing conditions. Different varieties of watermelons exist, offering a range of sizes, shapes, and flavours to suit different preferences and cultivation environments. However, the most popular varieties of watermelons include:
- Sukari F1 – This is the most preferred variety in Kenya.
- Colombia F1
- Zuri F1
- Kubwa F1
- Sugar Baby – This variety has the highest sugar content and may be preferred by food processing companies etc.
- Kiongozi F1
- Crimson Sweet
Despite the Sukari F1 being widely favoured in Kenya, it is important to acknowledge that market demand will ultimately determine the variety you choose to cultivate. For instance, exporters might show a preference for the Colombia F1 variety or the Crimson sweet. By thoroughly understanding your target market, you can effectively optimize your profits by selecting the most suitable variety.
D. Land Preparation and Planting
For good watermelon yields, you should choose a suitable site with good sunlight exposure and well-drained soil. Watermelons thrive in warm climates, so select a location that receives ample sunlight throughout the day.
Before you start planting, you must get to know your soil. You see, watermelon yield during harvest depends on the type of soil that you cultivated. As you assess your soil, you will need to get pertinent details such as:
- Nutrient content – This will help you plan accordingly on what fertilizer to use, about which minerals or nutrients missing in the soil.
- Pests & diseases in the soil – A laboratory analysis of your farm soils will help predict the outcome of your crop. Some soils may have heavy pest and disease infestations that will hinder any growth of watermelons. Since you don’t want to make any losses on your investment, a lab analysis of your soils is crucial.
4. Land size to seeds ratio
Typically, one acre of land in Kenya can accommodate up to 4,000 watermelon seeds. When purchasing your seeds, it is important to have a clear understanding of their packaging. Certain brands offer seed packages based on weight, measured in kilograms, while others provide a fixed number of seeds at a specific price.
For those offering seed packages based on weight, 500g normally corresponds to about 4,000 seeds, which corresponds to one acre of planting. For two acres, you will need 1kg of seeds equivalent to 8,000 seeds, and so on.
5. Land preparation procedure
Assuming you have already implemented the 4 previous steps described above, here is the rest of the land preparation process:
- Clearing and Cleaning – Clear the land of any weeds, rocks, or debris that may hinder the growth of watermelon plants. Remove any existing vegetation or crop residues to provide a clean slate for cultivation.
- Tilth – Plow or till the land to a depth of about 15-20 cm to break up the soil and create a loose, friable seedbed.
- Incorporating Fertilizers – Based on soil test recommendations, apply fertilizers to provide the necessary nutrients for watermelon plants. Commonly used fertilizers include:
- DAP (Diammonium Phosphate)
- CAN (Calcium Ammonium Nitrate)
- NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium)
- Organic fertilizers
- Foliar Fertilizers
- Creating Raised Beds or Mounds – Make raised beds or mounds for better drainage and moisture retention. This helps prevent waterlogging and facilitates root development. Leave sufficient spacing between the beds or ridges to allow for ease of movement during planting and maintenance.
However, for best practices, you should leave a distance of 2 meters from one furrow to another.
- Irrigation System Installation – Install an appropriate irrigation system to ensure adequate water supply to the watermelon plants. This can include drip irrigation, furrow irrigation, or sprinkler systems, depending on the availability of water and specific farm requirements.
- Mulching – Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or dried grass, around the watermelon plants. Mulching helps suppress weed growth, retain soil moisture, and regulate soil temperature. Bigger plantations may choose to use synthetic bags as an alternative to organic mulch. The choice is entirely yours.
6. Bed Preparation and Marking
Level the soil on the beds or mounds using a rake or hoe, ensuring a smooth surface for planting. Mark rows or furrows, as discussed earlier, at appropriate intervals to guide the planting process and maintain proper spacing between the plants.
You should leave a distance of 40cm to 60cm from one plant to another. This will maximize on nutrient uptake while preventing unhealthy competition among your watermelon crops.
|Planting||Sow seeds in soil beds in furrows||Week 1|
|Determine desired number of melons per plant||Week 1|
|Early Growth||Monitor plant growth and remove unhealthy or low-quality fruits||Weeks 3-4|
|Weed control and apply appropriate herbicides||Weeks 3-4|
|Irrigate regularly to maintain soil moisture||Weeks 3-4|
|Fruit Development||Thin out excess fruits to 2-3 melons per plant||Weeks 5-6|
|Apply fertilizers according to plant nutrient requirements||Weeks 5-6|
|Monitor pests and diseases and take necessary control measures||Weeks 5-6|
|Continue regular irrigation||Weeks 5-6|
|Maturation||Observe fruit ripening indicators (sound, color, tendril drying)||Weeks 7-8|
|Harvest mature watermelons||Weeks 8+ (70 – 100 days)|
|Post-Harvest||Store watermelons in a cool, dry place|
|Evaluate crop performance and make necessary adjustments||Ongoing monitoring|
E. Crop Care and Maintenance
Each seed you plant in soil beds in the furrows has the potential of yielding up to 5 watermelons. However, it is up to you as a farmer, to decide the number you want in each plant.
Ideally, most farmers prefer to leave 2-3 melons per plant, to maximize on size and quality. To achieve this, you will need to prune out any fruits that are not healthy or those that are of quality early enough in the growth of the watermelon.
F. Harvesting and Post-Harvest Handling
Watermelons take around 70 to 100 days to mature from the date of planting. Harvesting watermelons at the right time is crucial to ensure optimal flavour and sweetness. When the watermelons reach maturity, several indicators can guide the harvesting process.
Firstly, the tendril closest to the fruit should turn brown and dry out. Additionally, the skin colour of the watermelon should develop a dull sheen, and when tapped, a deep, hollow sound should be heard.
To harvest watermelons, use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the stem close to the fruit. Once harvested, watermelons should be immediately transferred to a shaded area or covered with a cloth to protect them from direct sunlight.
After a successful harvest, your post-handling should start by gently cleaning the watermelons with a soft cloth or brush to remove any dirt or debris. Avoid using water unless necessary to prevent moisture absorption, which can lead to spoilage.
Next, store the watermelons in a cool, well-ventilated area with a temperature between 100C to 150C. High humidity levels should be avoided as they can promote mould growth. Keep the watermelons off the ground to prevent contact with moisture.
Regularly inspect the stored watermelons and remove any damaged or spoiled ones to prevent the spread of decay. Properly stored watermelons can last several weeks, allowing for a longer marketing period and reducing post-harvest losses.
G. Challenges and Solutions
Watermelons face both climatic and health challenges. Here is a list of potential problems and a list of their solutions.
Pests & Diseases
|Pests and Diseases||Probable Solutions|
|Aphids||Use insecticidal soaps or neem oil|
|Introduce natural predators (e.g., ladybugs)|
|Regularly monitor and remove affected plants|
|Powdery Mildew||Apply insecticides labelled for cucumber beetles|
|Provide adequate air circulation and sunlight|
|Avoid overhead irrigation to minimize humidity|
|Fusarium Wilt||Use resistant watermelon varieties|
|Rotate crops to prevent soil buildup of pathogens|
|Maintain proper soil drainage and moisture levels|
|Cucumber Beetles||Install row covers or use insect mesh|
|Practice crop rotation to break the disease cycle|
|Remove weeds and debris that attract the beetles|
|Root Rot||Practice crop rotation to reduce pathogen buildup|
|Improve soil drainage and avoid overwatering|
|Use disease-resistant rootstocks|
|Anthracnose||Apply copper-based fungicides at appropriate intervals|
|Practice crop rotation to break disease cycle|
|Remove and destroy infected plant material|
Watermelons do poorly in a rainy or cold environment. Therefore, planting this crop in areas with such climate e.g., Kinangop, Mt. Kenya, Limuru etc., will only lead to losses. In contrast, this crop does pretty well in areas such as Narok (especially in Transmara) and in the Ukambani region, etc.
Market access, opportunities, and profitability
In watermelon, you have to assess and maximize profitability. To do this, you must understand the market and how it works. Watermelons tend to do better during the hot seasons, as many buyers use them for hydration and cooling effect.
Therefore, you should time your planting in such a way that the harvesting season coincides with a hot, or non-rainy season.
If by any chance your timing is not perfect, don’t worry. You can still look for all-season customers such as supermarkets and mall vendors who will buy and re-sell your farm produce.
Success Stories and Case Studies
There are many success stories to be told. One such story is that of Amos Morori, who started farming watermelons on one acre of land and has since expanded to 10 acres. He now produces over 30 tonnes of watermelons per season, and his profits have allowed him to become a millionaire. Another success story is that of David Macharia, who started farming watermelons after being laid off from his job. He now owns a 10-acre watermelon farm and employs over 20 people. These are just two examples of the many success stories that can be found in Kenya’s watermelon farming industry.
Read the rest of this story here.
In summary, watermelon farming in Kenya will require your attention to pertinent details mentioned in this post, such as soil analysis, choosing the right variety, weather and climate change and crop care and management after planting.
Good Luck with your watermelon farming business!
For more guidance, you can contact Rich-Farm Kenya via the following contacts:
We do not get any commissions by placing the contacts above in this article. All recommendations are based on the best judgement by Daily Hub. Read our terms & conditions here.