Watermelon farming is the cultivation of watermelon with the aim of harvesting the fruits from the watermelon plants.
Watermelon farming is one the most lucrative farming ventures in Nigeria. It is a known fact that watermelon farming is a cash cow for most farmers.
Watermelon farming is the cultivation of watermelon crop from the stage of the planting of the seeds to the final stage of harvesting the watermelon balls.
Watermelon as a plant has a crawling, climbing and prostrate habit. Watermelon has cultivars that produce fruits with seeds; it also has the seedless cultivars.
Step by Step Guide on How to Start Watermelon Farming
The following are the steps or processes to take to grow watermelon:
- 1. Site Selection
- 2. Capital Requirement
- 3. Soil Requirement
- 4. Soil Preparation
- 5. Picking the Watermelon Variety or Seed to Plant
- 6. Irrigation
- 7. Sowing of Watermelon Seeds
- 8. Application of Fertilizers
- 9. Weed Management
- 10. Pest Control
- 11. Harvest of Watermelons
- 12. Post-Harvest and Marketing
1. Site Selection
The site or farmland to be used for watermelon farming must be relatively flat. The soil should also be fertile with a lot of organic matter.
The farmland should have motorable roads so that the produce from the watermelon farm can be easily evacuated after harvest. The site should have abundant sunlight with a tropical climatic condition.
All areas in Nigeria are suitable for watermelon farming. Watermelon can do well in the Rain Forest, Guinea Savannah, Sudan Savannah, Sahel Savannah, Plateau Area and Mangrove Regions of Nigeria.
Watermelon plants can survive in temperatures between 15- 40 Celsius. The optimum temperature level for watermelon farming is 27 Celsius. Watermelon has been found to do well in very hot conditions in Nigeria.
Watermelon plants do well during the hot season in states like Borno, Bauchi and Gombe etc.
2. Capital Requirement
To engage in watermelon farming, you need to source for capital and analyse the expected cost and revenue. The watermelon farming business plan has to be written.
3. Soil Requirement for Watermelon Farming
Watermelon prefers sandy loamy soil with a lot of organic matter. This crop will not do well in soils that are not too clayey they are prone to flooding. Watermelon will also not do well in waterlogged areas.
The soil pH should be 5.5 – 6.8. A soil pH of 6.0 is the most optimum for the growing of watermelon in Nigeria.
4. Soil Preparation
Watermelon can grow in a wide range of soil. It can be grown in loamy, sandy and clay soil. Though, watermelon prefers loamy sandy soil that is loose.
Watermelon plants also prefer soils that are not too acidic or too alkaline. If the soil is too acidic or alkaline, nutrients absorption by the plants will be affected.
For those cultivating watermelon on virgin forests, they must remove all the trees and stumps on the farmland. Bulldozers are often used to open up new forest farmlands.
Care must be taken so that the bulldozers will not remove the top soil and destroy the soil structure of the farmland. Watermelon plants will not do well if the top soil has been removed.
For watermelon farmers growing the crop in the savannah areas of Nigeria, bulldozers are often not needed because they are no large trees and dense vegetation.
They simply use tractors fitted with plough, harrow and ridgers to prepare the land for farming.
The complete process of land preparation includes the following:
- Removal of tress and stumps by bulldozers or by hand
- Ploughing of the farmland, two or three cycles of plough is advised so that the soil will be loosed.
- Harrowing of the soil should also be done.
- Ridging of the farmland
To improve the soil, chicken manure and fertilizers can be added to the soil during the process of ploughing.
Nematicides can also be used to kill nematodes and other harmful soil based insects.
5. Picking the Watermelon Variety or Seed to Plant
A significant percentage of watermelon farmers in Nigeria cultivate the open pollinated varieties of watermelon because they are cheap and affordable. However, most of the open pollinated watermelon varieties of watermelon in Nigeria have low yields.
Hybrid watermelon seeds have a lot of advantages. Some of the advantages of cultivating hybrid watermelon seeds are high yield and better diseases and pests resistance.
Some of the watermelon seed varieties in Nigeria are Kaolack, Sugar Baby, Sweet Sangria and Erato F1 etc.
Irrigation is very important for watermelon farming. Even if you are growing your watermelon crop in the rainy season, it is advised that you have irrigation in place because of the erratic nature of rainfall nowadays.
Drip irrigation is the most suitable and best type of irrigation for watermelon farming. I have seen a lot of watermelon farmers with fantastic yields using drip irrigation. It is too risky to cultivate watermelon without irrigation.
With drip irrigation, fertigation can be done in watermelon farming. Fertigation is the process of injecting soluble fertilizer to the roots of plants through drip irrigation systems. Fertigation can increase the yield of watermelon crop by as much as 100 – 300%.
The possibility of cultivating watermelon all year round is one of the doyen advantages of using drip irrigation in watermelon farming. This can significantly increase the profit of watermelon farmers.
With drip irrigation, watermelon farmers can reduce the cost of labor and fertilizers. Drip irrigation is fairly efficient in irrigating plants than flood irrigation. A farmer with drip irrigation can drip irrigate large acreages of farmland by just switching on and off a valve.
7. Sowing of Watermelon Seeds
In watermelon farming, direct seeding is often used. This involves the planting of watermelon seeds in planting holes. In direct seeding, seedlings are not needed to be nursed and transplanted.
The drawback of direct seeding is that some of the seeds may not sprout or grow. This will lead to re-seeding which will increase the cost of buying seeds.
Using seedlings for watermelon farming may guarantee a higher rate of seed survivability. However, the cost of managing a nursery will make the overall cost of watermelon farming go higher.
Watermelon can also be cultivated using grafted seedlings.
Watermelon plants should have an intra-row spacing of 1 metre and an inter-row spacing of 1 metre if drip irrigation is not used. This will allow for about 4,000 watermelon plants per acre. If drip irrigation is used, an intra-row spacing of 50-60 cm and an inter-row spacing of 50-70 cm can be used.
8. Application of Fertilizers in Watermelon Farming
Soil analysis is the first step in the fertilization process in watermelon farming. You should not add any fertilizer to your crop until you do a complete soil analysis. The soil analysis will show you the nutrients level of your soil and what fertilizers to add.
A lot of laboratories in Nigeria doing soil analysis do not have the right equipment to conduct the test or analysis. You should be extremely careful relying on the soil test results of some laboratories in Nigeria. There are some good laboratories in Nigeria though.
The misconception in Nigeria is that our soil is very rich in nutrients. This is not true; most of the soils in Nigeria are acidic and poor.
Farm yard manure or chicken manure or compost should be added to your soil before you commence the process of planting your watermelon seeds.
Depending on your soil test result, 1-10 tons of chicken manure or compost can be added to a one hectare of farmland. This compost or manure should be mixed into the soil through ploughing or harrowing.
Farm yard manure improves the structure of the soil. It also improves water retention capacity of the soil and also improves microbial activities in the soil.
In watermelon farming, after the application of farm yard manure, base dressing application of fertilizers should be done. Fertilizers used for base dressing are NPK fertilizers, Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), Single Super Phosphate (SSP), calcium nitrate and calmag etc.
At the initiation stage of watermelon plants, they need a lot of phosphorus, hence, the advice of the use of high phosphatic fertilizers for base dressing.
After base dressing of fertilizers in watermelon farming, fertilizers with high nitrogen content should be added. Examples of high nitrogenous fertilizers are urea and NPK 20:10:10.
High nitrogenous fertilizers improve the size of the leaves of plants. This enables better sunlight capture which leads to better photosynthetic capability.
Calcium fertilizers like calcium nitrate and calmag (calcium magnesium nitrate) should also be used in combination with fertilizers used for vegetative growth. Calcium improves the diseases resistance ability of plants and reduces the incidences of blossom end rot.
At the flowering stage of watermelon plants, fertilizers with high content of potassium and calcium should be used. Fertilizers like potassium nitrate, potassium sulfate, calcium nitrate and calcium magnesium nitrate fertilizers.
Potassium improves the number and quality of flowers; it can also help in making the crops tolerate stress better.
Drip irrigation can be used to pass soluble fertilizers to crops. Watermelon crop responds to fertigation positively. Fertigation is the process of applying soluble fertilizers to the roots of crops through drip irrigation systems.
Fertigation has been proven to be far more efficient than other forms of fertilizer application.
Calcium fertilizers should be well used in watermelon farming. Calcium is known as the king of all nutrients because it helps in transporting other nutrients around the cells and tissues of the plants. This is also the reason it is called the trucker of all nutrients.
Calcium improves the strength of the cells and tissues in plants. Calcium hardens plants and enables them to tolerate stress. Calcium can also prevent blossom end rot in fruits of plants. Calcium also improves the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.
In watermelon farming, the brix of the fruits is very important. The brix determines the taste and shelf life of the harvested watermelons. Fertilizers should be applied according to the advice of an expert; probably an agronomist after a soil test has been done.
9. Weed Management
The use of plastic mulch is one of the cheapest technologies for the control of weeds in farming. Plastic mulch is a type of polythene material used in covering the soil so that weeds cannot grow.
Black plastic mulch and grey and black plastic mulch are the best types of plastic mulch for watermelon farming in Nigeria. The grey on black plastic mulch does not only prevent the growth of weeds, it also repels insects.
Hoes, cutlasses and rakes are some of the simple farm tools that can be used for weeding in watermelon farming. Motorised weeders and tractors can also be used for weeding.
There are no effective selective herbicides for watermelon farming in Nigeria. However, some herbicides can be used on farmlands meant for watermelon farming before seeding. This will help in killing all the weeds before you plant the watermelon seeds.
Mulch can be used to avoid the pitfall of not weeding.
It is very important for you to keep your watermelon farm clean clear all through. Do not allow weeds to thrive on your farm as weeds can significantly reduce yield and even introduce pests and diseases to your crops.
10. Pest Control in Watermelon Farming
Just like cucumbers and other crops in the cucurbit family, watermelon attracts a lot pests and diseases. If you plant watermelon seed today, within a few days, you will see a lot of insects on your farm.
The types of pests that are common in watermelon farming are aphids, beetles, thrips, grasshoppers, whiteflies, fruit borers and nematodes etc. These pests can destroy a watermelon farm within a short time if care is not taken.
The pests can also transmit diseases especially viral diseases to watermelon plants.
Pests and diseases on watermelon plants can be managed with the use of pesticides. These pesticides include nematicides, bactericides, fungicides, acaricides, insecticides and innoculants.
These pesticides can either be organic or inorganic. The inorganic pesticides are synthesized chemicals while the organic pesticides are made from natural sources.
There are a lot of bio-pesticides in Nigeria. Organic farmers prefer bio-pesticides because they are from natural sources. No chemicals are used in the production of bio-pesticides.
Neem oil is also a good pesticide that can be used in watermelon farming. Neem oil controls a lot of pests and diseases associated with watermelon plants.
11. Watermelon Harvest
Harvesting starts in watermelon farming after 90-120 days depending on the variety planted.
Watermelon plants reach harvests earlier during the hot and sunny season because the sun speeds up maturity. During the cold season, harvesting may be a little bit delayed.
There are skills you need to acquire in order to know when a watermelon ball is ready for harvest.
The bottom of the watermelon will ideally be lighter. When you knock the watermelon ball, it will make a hollow sound; this often shows that the watermelon fruit is ready for harvest.
It is very important that watermelon fruits are harvested when they are ready for harvest. If you harvest watermelon fruits that are not due for harvest, the taste will be bad and you will not be able to sell them.
12. Post-Harvest and Marketing
Post-harvest involves the sorting, grading and storage of the harvested watermelon balls. Sorting and grading is usually done on the field before they are taken for storage.
Marketing involves the sales of the watermelons to the consumers. Watermelons are usually sold in the open markets in Nigeria. They can also be sold to organized markets like hotels and supermarkets.
Diseases that affect watermelon plants
The following are some of the diseases that affect watermelon plants:
The botanical name of this disease is Collectotrichum Obiculare. It is a fungal foliar disease that affects watermelon.
It infects the leaves, stems and fruits of the watermelon plant. This disease causes yellow and brown spots on the leaves and negatively impacts the photosynthetic ability of the plant.
It can also lead to decaying of the watermelon fruits. This disease prefers environment with warm and humid conditions.
2. Bacterial Fruit Blotch
The botanical name of this disease is Acidovorax Citrulli. This bacterial disease mainly affects the fruits of watermelon. It disfigures the fruits and makes the fruits unmarketable.
This disease can lead a loss of yield of up to 60% if not adequately controlled and managed. This disease presents as spots of the watermelon fruits. It rarely affects the leaves.
3. Cercospora Leaf Spot
The botanical name of this disease is Cercospora Citrullina. It is a fungal disease that affects the leaves of the watermelon plants.
This disease is rampart in areas with high humidity. It leads to a significant defoliation of the leaves in watermelon plants. This leads to yield loss.
4. Downy Mildew
The botanical name of this disease is Pseudoperonospora Cubensis. This is one of the most important fungal diseases in watermelon plants.
This disease can destroy the leaves and also affect the fruits. It can lead to a huge loss in yield. This disease affects all cucurbit crops.
It presents as yellow and brown spots on leaves of the plant. The leaves can also curl inwards. The later stage of this disease leads to defoliation.
5. Fusarium Wilt
The botanical name of this disease is Fusarium Oxysporum. It is a soilborne fungus disease that affects watermelon plants.
This disease can lead to the death of watermelon plants. It affects the stem and blocks the transportation of water and nutrients to the other parts of the plants. This eventually kills the plants.
6. Gummy Stem Blight
This is also called Stagonosporopsis Cucurbitacearum is a foliar fungal disease that damages the leaves of watermelon plants.
It is better to prevent this disease than to cure it. It is very difficult to control.
7. Powdery Mildew
This is also called Podosphaera Xanthi. It is a fungal foliar disease that presents in form of white powdery substance of the leaves and stems of watermelon plants.
It can also cause yellow spots on leaves and lead to defoliation in watermelon plants.
There are also viral diseases and root-knot nematodes that affect watermelon plants.
Control of Diseases in Watermelon Plants
In Nigeria, fungal diseases are the most common diseases that affect watermelon plants. The commonest fungal diseases in watermelon plants in Nigeria are downy mildew, anthracnose and powdery mildew.
These fungal diseases can lead to the destruction of the leaves of watermelon plants. Without the leaves, photosynthesis will be negatively impacted and this can lead to a massive reduction in yield.
Fungal diseases must be controlled by fungicides. There are contact fungicides and systemic fungicides. Both types of fungicides should be used for preventative and curative purposes.
There are good organic and chemical fungicides that can also be used to manage fungal diseases.
There are also a lot of viral diseases that can be transmitted to watermelon plants through insects, aphids and beetles etc. Viral diseases are not curable. To prevent viral diseases in watermelon farming, aphids and other biting insects must be controlled.
Also, watermelon plants that are already infected should be uprooted and burned far away from the farm.
Stages of Growth in Watermelon Plants
Depending on the variety of watermelon, watermelon plants can last for between 100 – 140 days. Though, most watermelon plants start fruiting after 70 – 80 days.
The first stage in the life cycle of watermelon plant is the sprouting of the seeds; this is followed by the rapid leaves enlarging stage, also called the vegetative stage.
At the vegetative stage, the leaves and stems of the watermelon plants enlarge rapidly.
Watermelon plants also have the stage of flowering. This is the stage when the watermelon plants bear a lot of male and female flowers. Pollination occurs during this stage. Without pollination, the fruits will not set. Bees are important during pollination.
The watermelon plant also goes through the fruiting stage. This is the stage when the fruits are set. The last stage is the harvesting of the watermelon fruits.
Open Field Watermelon Production
Watermelon farming is mostly done in the open field in Nigeria. This is the cultivation of watermelon in the field or farmland without the use of protected covering or house. In Nigeria, almost all watermelon farmers practise open filed farming.
To practise open field cultivation of watermelon, a farmer needs to have a farmland, prepare the farmland by ploughing, harrowing and ridging and planting the watermelon seeds.
Manures and composts, fertilizers and pesticides are some of the inputs needed for open field cultivation of watermelon.
Some months of the year may be better for the cultivation of watermelon than other months.
Open filed cultivation of watermelon in Nigeria comes with some challenges. The doyen of the challenges is pests and diseases. Watermelon plants grown in the open field are more prone to pests and diseases attacks. Pesticides must be judiciously used in this case.
Watermelon Growing and Greenhouse Cultivation
Watermelon as a crop is not usually grown in greenhouses in Nigeria. I have only seen just one farmer who grew watermelon in a greenhouse. Growing watermelon under protected covering is possible and may lead to increased yield.
The intensive nature of greenhouse farming can enable more watermelon plants to be cultivated per square meter, thereby leading to increased yield and profitability.
Growing watermelon in greenhouses can be expensive. The cost of erecting a greenhouse in Nigeria is high. In greenhouse farming, more inputs like fertilizers, seeds and pesticides etc. are used as compared to open field cultivation.
High density planting can be done in greenhouse farming of watermelon.
Organic Watermelon Farming in Nigeria
Organic farming is the growing of crops with naturally made inputs. In organic farming, no chemicals are used; only organic inputs like manure, compost, bio-fertilizers, microbial innoculants and bio pesticides etc. are used.
Some farmers in Nigeria who grow watermelon practice organic farming. Organically grown watermelons are expected to be sold at premium because they are deemed to be healthier.
Yield of Watermelon Crop
Watermelon can be a high yielding crop if the farmer implements the right agricultural practices. A one acre farmland of some varieties of watermelon can yield 10,000 – 15,000 watermelon balls.
Watermelon farmers are advised to remove some watermelons from their plants if the plants have several fruits forming. If you allow a watermelon plant to have only 2 watermelon fruits for instance, the two fruits may weigh higher than 5 fruits.
It is not about the number of watermelon fruits you harvest; it should be about the weight of the watermelon balls you harvest. If you few watermelon fruits that are very big, it is better than harvesting a lot of watermelon fruits that are so tiny.
Health Benefits of Eating Watermelon
The following are the health benefits of eating watermelon:
- Watermelon has a high water content. It helps in the hydration of the body.
- Watermelon contains a lot of minerals and vitamins that are beneficial to the body. The vitamins include Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Potassium, Magnesium, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B5 and Vitamin B6.
- Watermelon has lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant good for the body.
- Watermelon is said to have compounds that can prevent cancer.
- Watermelon has compounds that improve the functions of the heart.
- Watermelon can improve digestion.
- Watermelon is beneficial to the eyes.
Questions and Answers on Watermelon Farming
a) Question: How can I get watermelon seeds to buy in Nigeria?
Answer: You can contact Veggie Concept on 08025141924
b) Question: Do I need drip irrigation for my watermelon farm?
Answer: Yes, we strongly advise you use drip irrigation for your watermelon farm.
c) Question: Is watermelon farming profitable in Nigeria?
Answer: Yes, watermelon farming can be very profitable if you use smart farming technologies and if you also implement good agricultural practices.
d) Question: Do watermelons have seasons when it comes to sales?
Answer: Yes, the prices of watermelons oscillate. At some times of the year, the price of watermelon balls can increase by over 150%
e) Question: Is watermelon a high yielding crop?
Answer: Yes, watermelon as a crop can have a very high yield. However, your yield depends on a lot of factors. The variety of seeds, fertilization rate, irrigation system used, the level of pests and diseases on your farm and your skills as a grower.
f) Question: Where can I get high quality inputs for my watermelon farm?
Answer: You can contact us to buy high quality inputs for farming. You can also get from credible dealers around you.