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Watermelon Farming Guide 2024

watermelon farming

Watermelon farming is an important agricultural practice that involves cultivating watermelons (Citrullus lanatus). Watermelons are known for their high water content and sweet flavor. This watermelon farming guide has been created to help farmers increase their yield by knowing the right seed variety and planting techniques that will increase output.

In Kenya, watermelon farming plays a crucial role in the agricultural sector. The crop is well-suited to the country’s climate, especially in regions with adequate warmth and sunshine. 

Overview of the 2024 Watermelon Farming Landscape

As of 2024, the watermelon farming landscape in Kenya is characterized by advancements in farming techniques, increased access to improved seed varieties, and enhanced market linkages. 

Modern irrigation methods and pest control strategies have improved crop yields and quality. Additionally, government initiatives and support programs are providing farmers with resources and training to optimize their farming practices. 

Watermelon Farming In Kenya 2024

Watermelon farming has gained prominence due to its profitability and the fruit’s growing popularity among consumers.

The country’s diverse agro-climatic zones provide suitable conditions for watermelon cultivation, making it a viable agricultural activity for many farmers. Watermelons are primarily grown in the arid and semi-arid regions of Kenya, including parts of Eastern, Coastal, and Rift Valley regions, where the warm temperatures and sufficient sunlight favor their growth. 

The fruit is harvested and sold in local markets, supermarkets, and even exported, contributing significantly to the farmers’ incomes.

Climate and Geographical Conditions Favorable for Watermelon Farming

Watermelon thrives in warm climates with temperatures ranging between 21°C and 35°C (70°F to 95°F). Kenya’s arid and semi-arid regions are particularly well-suited for watermelon farming due to their long sunny days and minimal rainfall, which are ideal for the fruit’s development. Key factors that make these regions favorable include:

  • Temperature: Watermelons require a warm growing season with consistent temperatures. Extremely high temperatures or cold spells can affect fruit set and quality.
  • Sunlight: Full sunlight is essential for watermelon plants to photosynthesize and produce sweet, juicy fruits. Areas with at least 8-10 hours of sunlight daily are optimal.
  • Soil: Well-drained, sandy loam soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5 are ideal for watermelon cultivation. Good drainage is crucial to prevent root rot and other waterlogged-related issues.
  • Water: Although watermelons are drought-tolerant, they require adequate water, especially during flowering and fruiting stages. Efficient irrigation methods, such as drip irrigation, are employed to ensure consistent moisture without overwatering.
  • Fertilizers: Watermelon fertilizers should contain key chemical elements such as calcium magnesium and nitrogen. Other chemical elements include boron and Molybdenum. 

Regions in Kenya Best Suitable for Watermelon Farming

Several regions in Kenya are particularly well-suited for the cultivation of watermelons due to their favorable climate, soil quality, and access to water resources. The following regions stand out as the best areas for watermelon farming:

Eastern Region

  • Machakos: The town is known for its warm temperatures and well-drained soils, making it a prime area for watermelon farming. The region’s consistent climate and adequate sunlight are ideal for growing high-quality watermelons.
  • Makueni: Makueni is another significant area in the Eastern region, with conditions that support robust watermelon farming. Farmers here benefit from the warm climate and availability of irrigation schemes that ensure consistent water supply.

Coastal Region

  • Taita Taveta: Taita Taveta offers a warm and relatively dry climate that is perfect for watermelon farming. The region’s fertile soils and proximity to markets make it a favorable location for farmers.
  • Kilifi: Kilifi’s coastal climate, consists of long sunny days and moderate rainfall. The sandy loam soils in the area are particularly beneficial for the crop.

Rift Valley Region

  • Kajiado: Located in the southern part of the Rift Valley, Kajiado boasts a semi-arid climate with plenty of sunshine, making it suitable for watermelon cultivation. The region’s well-drained soils and access to irrigation make it a strategic location for farming.
  • Baringo: Baringo’s warm climate and ample sunlight create a conducive environment for watermelon farming. The availability of water from rivers and lakes in the region supports irrigation needs.

Nyanza Region

  • Migori: Migori is ideal for watermelon farming because of its warm and humid climate, coupled with its fertile soils. The region benefits from both rainfall and irrigation schemes.
  • Homa Bay: Homa Bay’s favorable climate, with consistent temperatures and sufficient rainfall, supports the growth of watermelons. The region’s farmers have successfully adopted watermelon farming as a profitable venture.

Western Region

  • Bungoma: In the Western region, Bungoma is noted for its conducive climate for watermelon farming. The area’s rich soils and moderate climate conditions favor the cultivation of various watermelon varieties.
  • Busia: Busia’s tropical climate and fertile soils make it an ideal region for watermelon farming. The region benefits from a consistent supply of water from rivers and streams, essential for irrigation.

Northeastern Region

  • Garissa: Despite its arid conditions, Garissa is becoming increasingly important for watermelon farming, thanks to irrigation projects that provide the necessary water supply. The region’s high temperatures and ample sunlight are beneficial for watermelon growth.

Watermelon Farming Best Practices

Irrigation Methods and Water Management

Effective irrigation is crucial for watermelon farming, particularly during the flowering and fruiting stages. The following methods are commonly used:

  • Drip Irrigation: This method delivers water directly to the plant’s root zone, minimizing water wastage and ensuring consistent moisture levels. It is efficient and helps in reducing the risk of fungal diseases caused by excess water on leaves and fruits.
  • Furrow Irrigation: Water is channeled through furrows between rows of plants. This method is less efficient than drip irrigation but can be effective if managed properly.
  • Overhead Sprinkler Irrigation: While it provides uniform water distribution, this method can increase the risk of foliar diseases and water wastage.

For optimal water management:

  • Frequency: Watermelons require frequent, moderate watering, particularly during hot, dry periods. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other issues.
  • Timing: Early morning irrigation reduces evaporation and allows leaves to dry, minimizing disease risk.
  • Mulching: Using mulch helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.

Fertilization Schedules and Recommendations

Proper fertilization is essential for healthy watermelon growth and high yields. A balanced fertilization schedule includes:

  • Pre-Planting: Incorporate well-decomposed manure or compost into the soil to improve fertility and organic matter content.
  • Nitrogen (N): Apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer at the time of planting to promote vigorous vine growth. Reduce nitrogen application after flowering to focus energy on fruit development.
  • Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K): Ensure adequate phosphorus for root development and potassium for fruit quality. A balanced NPK fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10) is often recommended.
  • Micronutrients: Ensure the soil has adequate levels of essential micronutrients such as magnesium, calcium, and sulfur. Foliar sprays can be used to address specific deficiencies.

A typical fertilization schedule might include:

  • At Planting: Apply a balanced NPK fertilizer.
  • After 3-4 Weeks: Side-dress with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
  • At Flowering: Apply a potassium-rich fertilizer to support fruit development.

Pest and Disease Management

Effective pest and disease management is crucial for a successful watermelon crop. Understanding common pests and diseases in Kenya and employing appropriate control methods are key steps.

Common Pests:

  • Aphids: Small insects that suck sap from leaves, causing wilting and stunted growth.
  • Cucumber Beetles: Feed on leaves and can transmit bacterial wilt.
  • Cutworms: Larvae that cut down young seedlings at soil level.

Common Diseases:

  • Powdery Mildew: A fungal disease causing white powdery spots on leaves.
  • Fusarium Wilt: A soil-borne fungus that causes yellowing and wilting of leaves.
  • Anthracnose: A fungal disease causing dark, sunken lesions on fruits and leaves.

Organic and Chemical Control Methods

Organic Control Methods:

  • Crop Rotation: Rotate crops to prevent the buildup of soil-borne diseases.
  • Neem Oil: Effective against aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
  • Companion Planting: Planting marigolds or nasturtiums can help repel pests.
  • Biological Controls: Use natural predators like ladybugs to control aphid populations.

Chemical Control Methods:

  • Insecticides: Use approved insecticides to control pests like aphids and cucumber beetles. Follow label instructions carefully to minimize environmental impact.
  • Fungicides: Apply fungicides to manage diseases such as powdery mildew and anthracnose. Rotate fungicides to prevent resistance development.
  • Herbicides: Use pre-emergent herbicides to control weeds, ensuring they do not compete with watermelon plants for nutrients and water.

Integrating these best practices into watermelon farming can help ensure healthy plants, high yields, and sustainable production. By combining effective irrigation, balanced fertilization, and integrated pest management, farmers can optimize their watermelon crops and meet market demands.

Harvesting and Post-Harvest Management of Watermelons

Identifying the Right Time to Harvest

Timing the harvest correctly is crucial for ensuring optimal sweetness and quality of watermelons. Key indicators that watermelon is ready for harvest include:

  • Color Change: The underside of the watermelon, where it touches the ground, changes from white to a creamy yellow color.
  • Tendrils: The tendril closest to the fruit stem becomes brown and dry.
  • Sound: When tapped, ripe watermelons produce a deep, hollow sound, while unripe ones sound dull.
  • Surface Texture: The skin of a ripe watermelon loses its glossy appearance and becomes slightly dull.
  • Days to Maturity: Most watermelon varieties, including popular ones like Crimson Sweet and Jubilee, mature in about 80 to 95 days from planting.

Harvesting Techniques

Proper harvesting techniques ensure minimal damage to the fruit and maintain its quality. Follow these steps for effective harvesting:

  • Tools: Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the fruit from the vine, leaving a short stem attached to the watermelon.
  • Handling: Handle the fruits gently to avoid bruising. Avoid dropping or stacking them too high during collection.
  • Time of Day: Harvest early in the morning when temperatures are cooler to reduce the risk of heat stress and spoilage.

Post-Harvest Handling and Storage

Effective post-harvest handling and storage practices are essential to maintain the quality and extend the shelf life of watermelons. Consider the following practices:

  • Cleaning: Remove any dirt or debris from the harvested fruits using clean water and a soft brush.
  • Cooling: Cool the watermelons promptly after harvesting to remove field heat. This can be done through air cooling or hydro cooling.
  • Storage Conditions: Store watermelons in a cool, shaded area with good ventilation. The optimal storage temperature is between 10°C and 15°C (50°F and 59°F) with a relative humidity of 85% to 90%. Avoid storing below 10°C, as this can cause chilling injuries.
  • Inspection: Regularly inspect stored watermelons for any signs of spoilage or damage and remove affected fruits to prevent the spread of decay.

Transportation and Market Preparation

Proper transportation and market preparation ensure that watermelons reach consumers in the best possible condition. Key steps include:

  • Packaging: Use sturdy, ventilated crates or bins to pack the watermelons. Ensure that the fruits are cushioned to prevent bruising during transit.
  • Loading: Load the crates carefully onto the vehicle, ensuring they are secure and do not shift during transport. Avoid stacking the crates too high to prevent crushing the lower layers.
  • Transportation: Use vehicles with proper ventilation and shade to maintain the quality of the watermelons during transport. If possible, use refrigerated trucks to prolong freshness, especially for long-distance transportation.
  • Market Preparation: Upon reaching the market, display the watermelons attractively to entice buyers. Ensure that the fruits are clean and free from visible defects. Provide samples to allow consumers to taste the sweetness and quality of the watermelons.

By following these harvesting and post-harvest management practices, farmers can ensure that their watermelons reach the market in optimal condition, maximizing their value and consumer satisfaction.

Watermelon Farming Cost per Acre and Profit

To plant 1 acre of watermelon, you will require at least 11,000 for the cost of seeds and atleast 80,000 – 100,000 to furrow the land and buy fertilizer. 

The estimated return per acre is around 300 -600,000  per acre. This will depend on several factors such as the seed planted, and the cost of combating presets and diseases

Popular Watermelon Varieties Grown in Kenya

Some of the popular watermelon varieties grown in Kenya are:

  • Sugar Baby melons
  • Crimson sweet watermelon
  • Charleston gray
  • Jubilee watermelons


Sugar Baby

The Sugar Baby watermelon variety is a popular choice among farmers and consumers due to its compact size, sweet flavor, and relatively short growing season.

 Sugar Baby Originated in the United States in the mid-20th century. These watermelons are small to medium-sized, typically weighing between 3 to 6 kilograms (6 to 13 pounds). In addition, they have a round to slightly oval shape, making them easy to handle and transport. 

This variety contains black seeds, although seedless versions have also been developed, and the seeds are relatively few compared to other varieties, making it more enjoyable for consumers.

Sugar Baby watermelons thrive in warm climates with temperatures ranging between 21°C and 35°C (70°F to 95°F). In addition, they require a long growing season with plenty of sunlight to develop their full sweetness and prefer well-drained, sandy loam soils with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5. 

These watermelons are typically planted in rows with spacing of about 1.5 to 2 meters (5 to 6 feet) between rows and 60 to 90 centimeters (24 to 36 inches) between plants, allowing enough room for the vines to spread and the fruits to develop. 

They have a relatively short growing period, reaching maturity in about 75 to 80 days from planting, and are ready for harvest when the rind turns dark green and the tendrils near the fruit dry out.

Sugar Baby watermelons are prone to certain pests and diseases, such as aphids, cucumber beetles, and powdery mildew. 

Crimson Sweet Melons

The Crimson Sweet watermelon variety is renowned for its large, oval fruits and vibrant red flesh. This variety typically produces fruits that weigh between 10 to 12 kilograms (22 to 26 pounds), making it significantly larger than many other watermelon varieties. 

Its rind is light green with dark green stripes, providing an appealing contrast that makes it easily recognizable in the market. The flesh is firm, juicy, and exceptionally sweet, offering a delightful eating experience that is highly favored by consumers.

Crimson Sweet watermelons thrive in warm climates, ideally with temperatures ranging between 21°C and 35°C (70°F to 95°F). 

In addition, they require a growing season with plenty of sunshine to develop their sweetness and size fully. This variety prefers well-drained, sandy loam soils with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8. 

Crimson Sweet watermelons are generally planted in rows with spacing of about 1.8 to 2.4 meters (6 to 8 feet) between rows and 90 to 120 centimeters (3 to 4 feet) between plants. This spacing allows the vines ample room to spread and supports the growth of large fruits. 

They typically reach maturity in about 80 to 85 days from planting, with the fruits ready for harvest when the underside turns creamy yellow and the tendrils near the fruit dry out.

Charleston Gray Watermelon

The Charleston Gray watermelon is a popular variety known for its large, elongated fruits and excellent transportability. 

This variety typically produces fruits that weigh between 11 to 16 kilograms (24 to 35 pounds), making them one of the larger watermelon types available. The rind of the Charleston Gray is light green with a smooth, slightly mottled appearance, providing a distinctive look that sets it apart from other varieties. Inside, the flesh is bright red, juicy, and sweet, offering a refreshing taste that is highly appreciated by consumers.

Charleston Gray watermelons thrive in warm climates with temperatures ranging from 21°C to 35°C (70°F to 95°F). 

They require a long growing season with ample sunshine to reach their full potential. This variety prefers well-drained, sandy loam soils with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8.

 Proper soil preparation, including the incorporation of organic matter and necessary nutrients, is crucial to support the robust growth of these large fruits.

One of the notable advantages of the Charleston Gray variety is its strong disease resistance, particularly against fusarium wilt and anthracnose. 

This resistance reduces the need for extensive chemical treatments, making it a more manageable and eco-friendly option for farmers. Additionally, the thick rind of Charleston Gray watermelons provides excellent protection during transport, minimizing damage and ensuring the fruits reach the market in good condition.

Charleston Gray watermelons are typically planted in rows with spacing of about 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10 feet) between rows and 90 to 120 centimeters (3 to 4 feet) between plants. This generous spacing allows the vines to spread out and supports the development of large fruits. 

The variety matures in about 85 to 95 days from planting, with the fruits ready for harvest when the underside turns creamy yellow and the tendrils near the fruit dry out.

Overall, Charleston Gray is a highly productive and reliable watermelon variety. Its large size, sweet flavor, and strong disease resistance make it a favorite among both farmers and consumers.

Jubilee Watermelons

The Jubilee watermelon variety is known for its large, oblong fruits and high yield potential. Typically weighing between 11 to 18 kilograms (24 to 40 pounds), Jubilee watermelons have a light green rind with dark green stripes. The flesh is bright red, juicy, and sweet, making it a popular choice among consumers.

Jubilee watermelons thrive in warm climates with temperatures between 21°C and 35°C (70°F to 95°F) and prefer well-drained, sandy loam soils with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. This variety is also resistant to fusarium wilt and anthracnose, which helps reduce the need for extensive chemical treatments.

Farmers usually plant Jubilee watermelons with a spacing of 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10 feet) between rows and 90 to 120 centimeters (3 to 4 feet) between plants. The fruits typically mature in about 90 to 95 days, and they are ready for harvest when the underside turns creamy yellow and the tendrils near the fruit dry out.

In conclusion, watermelon farming in Kenya is a profitable venture. Depending on the location, the cost of watermelon per kg can range between 20 – 30 Shs. This watermelon farming guide will help you prepare your land, choose the right seed variety to plant, and most importantly, protect your farm from post-harvest losses.

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