You can’t talk about watermelon farming without going down memory lane. Over 4000 years ago, these football sized fruits began appearing in Ancient Egypt. Not too long after, the cultivation of the seeds began spreading across other parts of the ancient world like Persia, Arabia and India. One thing that promoted the mass cultivation of this crop in these areas was the arid climate.
Currently, watermelon is the third most cultivated crop in the world. The only other crops that are more cultivated are potatoes and tomatoes.
However, over the years, water melon hasn’t only be known as a fruit, it has also been linked to many health benefits. They have been linked with prevention of heart related conditions and correcting metabolic deficiencies.
Watermelon is loaded with nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, iron, folic acid, B vitamins as well as vitamin A and C. It also contains lycopene, an antioxidant that protects the skin from ultraviolet rays. Hence you can use watermelon to prevent sunburn. The lycopene content can also help reduce cancer risk. Other benefits of water melon are listed below.
- Eye care
The lycopene in water melon may help prevent macular degeneration which is common among the elderly.
- Muscle health
Water melon contains citrulline which can be giving to athletes to help prevent muscle soreness. Citrulline also improves exercise performance and endurance.
- Skin and hair care
The vitamins A and C in water melon are important vitamins for optimal skin and hair health. As stated earlier the lycopene in this fruit also protects the skin from sunburn.
Currently, watermelon farming is quite popular in the North and a majority of the watermelon consumed in the South comes from the Northern part of the country. This article provides a step by step guide in watermelon farming irrespective of your location.
As stated earlier, watermelon thrives quite well in hot and dry climate; this is why it is popularly cultivated in the Northern part of the country. However, the ideal planting region isn’t necessarily the North. It can be planted in any part of the country. Usually, the start of the rainy season or towards the end of this season is the ideal planting period. The reason for this is because of the low humidity levels associated with this period.
In the Northern part of Nigeria, this period is usually May for the early season or July for the late season. Generally, watermelon can be planted all year round in the North as long as their adequate water supply through irrigation.
In the Southern part, you can plant in March which is the early planting season. You can also plant in the mid season which is either in late June or early July. Then there’s the late planting season which is in September or October. The mid-season planting is highly dependent on the rain. If the rains which is expected to commence in mid June starts much earlier, then you can’t plant in this period
Also, the ideal soil for planting is sandy or loamy soil. The farm should also have adequate exposure to sunlight. If your soil is not really fertile, you can plant the seed in heaps of compost.
Additionally, watermelon requires a lot of space. The plant is a rambling vine and can smother anything it comes in contact with. Although they do not climb, you can train them on strong trellis. This increases their exposure to sunlight and you can also save space using this method. However, you need a bit of expertise when constructing or installing the trellis because they need to be strong enough to support the weight of the developing fruit.
The land should be ploughed prior to planting; however you can plant the same day of ploughing. It has been observed that planting this way is better than waiting till the day after.
There are many variants of the water melon plants from which you can select from when starting your farm. Some of these include:
- Black Diamond
This particular specie is almost black in colour and its rind is bruise resistant rind. It is also sweet tasting and has a luscious flesh.
The Congo species of the watermelon has a juicy red flesh and it has a high sugar content. The melon is oblong and medium green with dark-green stripes. This specie is particularly common in the country.
- Crimson Sweet
This is an exceptionally sweet variety; it has a deep red flesh with a unique dark-green striped rind. This is another common variety in Nigeria
- Moon& Stars
This is another variety of water melon. It is characterized by its red flesh.
Water melon can be planted on the flat land or on ridges. If the soil is clay, planting on a ridge or bed is recommended. On the other hand, you can plant on a flat land if the soil is loamy. The planting hole should be about 30 cm in depth.
When growing in commercial quantities you can plant on ridges. The soil used should be well drained because the watermelon plant doesn’t do well in water logged environment. It is never recommended to grow your water melon in the nursery. Usually the watermelon seed sprouts within a few days.
The plant rows should be about 2 metres apart and the spacing between plants should be 1 foot apart. Growing the plant in raised rows ensure good drainage. Generally, the method of planting also depends on the variety. If you are planting the Congo or Crimson Variety, you should make sure the rows are at least 10 feet apart.
Prior to planting, you can evaluate the quality of the water melon seeds by dipping them into a salt solution (3-5%). The ones that should be planted should readily sink into the bottom of the bowl. Additionally, the leathery seeds need to be softened before they can be planted.
Also, you can make the plants more resistant to pest and diseases by drying the seeds under the sun for a week prior to planting. You should add humus to the soil prior to planting. This is better than organic manure because manure often affects the taste of the watermelon and it weakens the resistance of the plant to disease. You can also use inorganic fertilizers like phosphorus and potassium.
You need to water the plant once a week until they become mature. You can also mulch the soil. This is important because watermelon need adequate moisture for optimal growth. Mulch also helps to keep the weeds out
Also you should be adding organic manure frequently. You can also use inorganic fertilizers. The growing plant requires a high level of nitrogen however, once the plant flowers and fruits you can reduce the nitrogen supply and increase the phosphorus and potassium supply.
You can adjust the tip of the watermelon vine to grow in the direction. You can also use trellis to support their growth and increase their exposure to sunlight.
A certain insect called the leaf eating beetle often disrupt the growth of water melon by attacking the leaves. You can reduce the attack on the water melon leaves by improving the soil conditions of the plant. In the case, the water melon plant will grow fast enough to diminish the effect of these beetles.
In terms of disease infestation, mildew is a fungus that affects the leaves of the plant. You can avoid this disease by preventing the leaves of the water melon from staying wet long enough to cause mildew. This can be done by avoiding overheard watering
It takes 3 months for water melon to mature in readiness for harvest. This means you can plant up to 3 times in a year.The watermelon should be ready for harvest once they are fully ripe. The signs of ripening include the dryness of the tendrils as well as a dull sound when flapping the fruit. At this point when you put pressure on the melon, you can hear a crackle around the rind.
Another way to confirm its time to harvest is by checking the bottom of the melon. This part which is closest to the soil should have turned deep yellow from white. Also, the color at the top is also important. When the watermelon turns ripe, there’s usually a contrast between the strips.
The stems should be cut with a sharp knife close to the fruit. Water melon can last up to 10 days, however, once cut, they would only last about 4 days.
Based on your research prior to starting the farm, you should have allocated your harvest to specific delivery points. In this way, your fruits don’t have to stay on the farmland too long before they are transported to their target customers. Once, this is achieved you can await a bountiful return on your investment in this lucrative venture.