Watermelon farming: an easy and high-yielding agribusiness

By AgroNigeeria:
Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a warm, long-season crop and member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes squash, pumpkin, cucumber, muskmelon and gourd.
The specie is said to have originated from Southern Africa with evidence of early cultivation in Ancient Egypt. Till date, the crop is grown in semi-desert districts of Africa as an important source of water during the dry season.
The watermelon can grow in any part of Nigeria with demand for it growing daily as a result of its many health benefits. Aside having cancer-combating enzymes, it contains 91% water, 6% sugar and is low in fat. A 100 gram serving also supplies 30 calories and vitamin C in appreciable content at 10% of the daily value. Furthermore, the crop’s pulp contains carotenoids, including lycopene.

The high turnover of watermelon cultivation in a short time makes it one of the most lucrative agribusinesses to run in Nigeria. With just eighty-five days to reach maturity from its planting date, one can get three sets of harvested watermelon fruits to sell within a year. Experts also say that if one starts-out the business on a large parcel of land, huge returns on investment is guaranteed.
Commercial watermelon farming is very easy to start and doesn’t require much technical knowledge. If you have the interest and own sufficient land space, you are totally good to go.
The requirements for starting a lucrative watermelon farming business in Nigeria are –
A large piece of land; say about a plot will do for starters. As the fruit thrives in hot and warm environments, an area of land enjoying 25 ° Celsius or 77 ° Fahrenheit is suitable. A location with either sandy or loamy soil is equally ideal for planting. Once the land is acquired, it should be cleared.
The next step to take is to get good watermelon seedlings. The type of seeds planted will determine the quality of fruits that will be harvested. A good option is to get them from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). An alternative is to visit those who run their own watermelon farms.
Sow watermelons in rows. If you are planting the Congo or Crimson Sweet variety, plant three to four seeds per row, making sure that the rows are ten feet apart or more from one other. Also when planting, be sure to space seeds six inches apart.
Since watermelons are heavy feeders, ensure you add a moderate amount of manure, compost and leaves when planting. Apart from feeding the seedlings, the manure and other components also make sure the soil drains well. Also, provide adequate protection for your tender seedlings.
Watermelons grow slowly during cold days. Hence, use hot caps or cold frames during cold days or nights.The watermelon is best planted at the outset of the rainy season or when the rainy season is almost over. This will allow for low relative humidity, a condition essential for normal growth of the crop in southern Nigeria.
In the northern part, early planting season is in May while late season planting is July. But with functional irrigation in the north, it could be planted round the year, accounting for why it is often brought from the north.
There is no set watermelon fertilising schedule. Timing of fertiliser application is determined by the current soil condition and, thereafter, by the stage at which the watermelon plant is growing. Be it an emergent seedling or in bloom, both stages have different nutritional needs.
When fertilising watermelon plants, the nitrogen-based fertiliser should be used first. Once the plant begins flowering, one should switch to feeding the watermelon a phosphorus and potassium-based fertiliser. Watermelons require ample potassium and phosphorus for optimal production.
Once the seedlings have emerged or you are ready to transplant, top dress with either 5-5-5- or 10-10-10 general all-purpose fertiliser. Also fertilise the watermelon plants in the amount of 1 & 1/2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden space.
Watermelons should be fertilised with granular food and without the fertiliser coming into contact with the leaves. The leaves are sensitive and could be damaged if not handled properly. Fertilisation should be done in such a way that plant roots easily absorb the nutrients.
Watermelons are very thirsty plants and must be watered regularly, especially during hot weather. This will help keep the soil moist. Though the crop requires watering throughout the season, a particularly important time for the process is when they are setting and growing fruit. The reason for this is that the fruit is made up of 92 percent water. This means that the plant must take up an enormous amount of water while the fruit is developing.
If water is not available to the plant at this time, the fruit will likely have stunted growth or possibly fall off the vine. It is therefore important to water the crops while they are establishing in the garden or during times of drought.
It is imperative to clear the land used for cultivation and rid it free of weeds. This would help the planted crops grow well. Also, inspect the watermelon bed weekly and pull-out any weed that grows through the mulch layer by hand. Grasp weeds near the base and pull straight up, twisting slightly to dislodge deep roots without breaking them.
Major pests of the watermelon include aphids, fruit flies, and root-knot nematodes. In very hot weather, the plants are prone to diseases such as powdery mildew and mosaic virus. Upon observation of any pest, pesticides should be applied quickly and carefully so as not to disrupt growth.
Most farmers claim they tap on the fruit and wait for a dull thump sound to ascertain when a watermelon is ripe enough for harvesting. A common way however is to watch the tendril closest to the melon stem. The tendril is a modified leaf or stem in the shape of a slender, spiral coil. When it turns brown and dries up, the melon is ripe. The only trouble with this method is that some watermelon varieties have their tendrils drying and dropping-off more than a week before the melons become fully ripe.
A successful watermelon farming exercise in Nigeria ends with transporting the harvested produce to the market for sale. Customers range from fruit juice companies to fruit shops, local markets, grocery stores and pharmaceutical companies that use watermelons in their medicines when creating nutritional supplements. Sales could also be achieved with restaurants and resorts scattered across the country.