A guide to investing Sh41,000 to earn Sh1.5m. Water melon sales have risen by up to 30 per cent over the last three years, driven by a growing middle class that has become health conscious. But getting the highest returns from watermelons requires the right preparation and the best choice of seeds. We offer a farm to market guide.
Today the watermelon is a common fruit at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is an excellent snack between meals and especially for weight watchers. It is used for quenching thirst while providing good nutrition. Often the fruit flesh is eaten with the seeds. Seedless varieties have been developed, but the price of the seed is currently high. However, a series of hybrids have been developed that deliver a higher quality of water melon and far higher yields. Traditionally watermelon varieties like Sugar Baby, Crimson Sweet and Charleston Gray produce at most 1700 plants in an acre, each producing a maximum of 3-4 fruits. An acre therefore averages 8,000 to 9,000 fruits. The new hybrids guarantee at least 2,500 plants per acre, each producing 6 -8 fruits.
One acre therefore produces15,000 fruits. Some of the recently developed hybrid varieties in Kenya include: Sweet Rose F1 A vigorous medium to early hybrid (90-100 days) with good adaptability. The fruits are oval to oblong in shape,each weighing 10 -12 Kg. Its flesh is deep crimson red with good texture and sweetness with the sweetness standing at TSS 12-13 per cent. TSS, which stands for Total Soluble solids, is the measure of sweetness and internal quality of watermelons and other fruits. Most fruits have 8-10 per cent TSS, which scientists consider barely enjoyable.
Traditional watermelon varieties fall in the 8-10 per cent TSS category. This variety also has good transport and keeping qualities. Julie F1 A vigorous hybrid producing oval shaped fruits maturing at between 80- 85 days depending on the season. Weighs 8 -10kg with excellent bright red flesh having good juicy granular texture and sweetness of 12-13 per cent TSS. It has small seed size and good shipping quality. Sugar Belle F1 Medium early vigorous hybrid with a fast maturity of 80 days. It has attractive dark bluish green rind (skin) with visible green stripes. Fruits are round to oval in shape each weighing 8-10 kg. Flesh is deep red in coloor with firm texture and sweetness of 12 per cent TSS. Honey Bee F1 This is a new ice box hybrid with fruit weighing 4 to 5 kg maturing at between 60-65 days with 12-13 per cent TSS. The rind is tough, making it excellent for long distance transport. Watermelons can grow in a very wide variety of environments.
The only area they may not perform well are the cold highlands. They grow well form mid hot coastal areas, to dry eastern plains and hilly midlands. In Kenya, watermelons do well in areas like Machakos, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Meru, Isiollo, Kerio valley, Loitoktok, Coast Province and also around Garrissa. Ploughing of land should be done four weeks before planting. This allows for decomposition of plants remaining from the previous crop. Good ploughing kills all the weeds and buries weed seeds and thus delays their germination. Watermelons are often directly planted without the use of nursery. 2 to 3 seeds are required per hole. But the use of germination trays can reduce the amount of seed required. Water melons predominantly require nitrogen, phosphorus and pottasium nutrients for optimum growth. The most common fertilizer used is the DAP.
At the onset of flowering additional fertilizer will be required as a top dressing. Watermelons do not require wet soil for growth. They have an efficient root system. Watering should be guided by the area grown and the stage of crop growth. Often, irrigation is required every five days in the early stages. Excessive irrigation may encourage vegetative growth and disease incidence. One acre approximate cost of production and returns Cost of hybrid seeds: 400g is Sh27,000. Ploughing and weeding depending on the type of tools costs around Sh.3,000. Planting fertilizer: DAP 50kgs Sh2,250 Citishooter hormone, also known as rooting hormone to allow fast and uniform growth, costs Sh400 for 200mililitres.
Top dressing fertilizer: CAN of 50kgs at Sh2,200 Fungicide for control of common fungi diseases. Most recommended include Portiva, Antracol – Sh1,500 for 200mililitres. Pesticides for control of common pests like aphids, commonly Actara, Karate or Agrinate – going for Sh2,500 Total cost – Sh41,000 Returns from hybrid watermelons One acre produces around 15,000 fruits, each selling for an average Sh100. Total sales income for 15,000 fruits is Sh1,500,000