Challenges in My Watermelon Farming Journey
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. My journey began in the heart of Kamba land when I visited a friend whose watermelon farm inspired me to start my own journey. The visit was followed by a comprehensive research in a bid to gain more knowledge on the journey was about to embark on…… Now, I can hardly stop glaring at my farm full of marble-sized watermelons that have sprouted from my 2-acre piece of land.
Planting the melons was easy. I began by conducting a soil test as advised by my friend, Jared Kyalo. I had made up my mind to grow the desert melons. I could not risk planting seed-type watermelons since their demand mostly is in the West and Central Africa. It took a while as I thought and sifted through the varieties of watermelon, for what I wanted to grow. I decided to visit authorized government institutions which helped me in select what I wanted. I was surprised to find different varieties in the store.
Amongst the varieties stored by the institution included Sukari F1, Zuri F1, Early Scarlet F1, Sugar Baby, Asali F1, and many others grown here in Kenya. I was worried about which variety would do well in the soil on my farm so I decided to seek advice from a certified officer. He urged me to use Sukari F1 because it is one of the most popular and always preferred by farmers in Kenya.
According to the officer, watermelon farmers like it because of its early maturity of 80 days and its resistance to pests due to its hard outer layer. The hard rind gives the melon longer shelf life during storage. He said that the melon is sweet and fleshy and could yield a minimum of 25-30 tonnes per acre.
Everything was now going right, or so I thought. I only needed about 800 to 1000 grams of seeds per acre to plant my millions. As advised, I soaked my seeds in water overnight in a bid to expedite the germination. I was determined to not want to waste any time. Check Babame.com.
After planting, I patiently watched and waited for my now marble-sized watermelons to get bigger and fall off the plant. As days went by, I noticed something strange with my melons. They were not getting big. They were stunted! My stomach begun to rumble with fear and I imMediately decided to call my friend Jared Kyalo to find out my predicaments. His response was simple, “If your marble-sized watermelons are not getting bigger, then they not properly pollinated.”
This imMediately made me remember the bees that made me almost jumped off my skin when I toured Kyalo’s farm. I tried to refer to my book, but I had not jotted down anything on how to manage such a challenge. Kyalo then advised me that in order to ensure proper pollination without relying on bees I needed to hand pollinate the watermelons.
He instructed me to look for male flowers with short stems and pull the petals away to expose the center and then rub them into the female flower. The female flower is usually borne on a longer stem and has a slight bulge at the base.
“The best time to hand pollinate your melons is during the morning hours after the dew dries.” Kyalo reminded me. He had informed me that pollinating the flowers in the morning is crucial because female flowers only open once a day and it is always an hour or two after sunrise. He revealed that every watermelon plant only produces a single female flower, which will produce the fruit for every seven male flowers.
The instructions were deafening. However, what kept me moving was that a solution had been found. I struggled to carry out those instructions to the latter. A few days later, my melons started growing again and I was utterly relieved. Bees started to swarm on my farm and I smiled as I knew that millions would soon start dripping in. I walked through my farm, pruning weeds and ensuring proper irrigation.
During my walk on my farm, I noticed some of my melon fruits had cracked and I realised that they would start to decay. Again, this sent me on panic mode. As a new farmer, I did not know how to deal with this challenge, and to also prevent further cracking of more melons. I started fruit-pruning them, but as I moved deeper into my farm, I noticed even more cracked melons. I then decided to contact the certified officer who sold me the seeds. He informed me that watermelons should not be irrigated too much. It should be moderate. That, was the mistake I was making. “When you irrigate your melon with plenty of water, they will split open and lack sweetness.” informed the officer.
He further told me that I should stop watering melons two weeks before I planned to harvest. This is because lack of moisture will concentrate the sugar content in the melon as it ripens.
He also cautioned me that another cause of cracking melon skin could be too much sun. It is usually common in arid or very hot summer regions. He said that if I suspected cracking due to the sun, I should protect my fruit with a brown paper bag and feed the melons with compost tea to encourage leaf growth to shade the fruit.
My next concern was that my plants were bearing few fruits. This time I went to conduct my own studies to find out even more. I discovered that in order to increase the amount of fruit, I needed to feed the plant with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.
As I chatted with my friend Kyalo later on, he told me to be resilient and noted that more challenges were yet to come. He advised me to always buy pest-free seeds.
It had been 40 days since I planted my melons, and I was very eager to witness my returns when the 80 days elapsed.
Check the next series on my last days of the watermelon farming venture.