Every child has a dream. Actually, everyone dreams. The dream will be driven by passion, a hobby, or by peer pressure and expectations from society and family. The majority of the friends I grew up with, had dreams driven by money or in our then common sheng slang “Cheda”. They would often say, “My friend if it does not make me money; it does not make me happy”
This got me thinking… everyone wants to be happy, and if money makes one happy, then let me find a way to make millions. Of course, some will argue that money does not ultimately equate to happiness, but according to one of my friends Jared Kyalo, watermelon farming has brought him millions, and of course happiness.
My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take a trip to Kitui, in the heart of Kamba land to witness the kind of happiness Kyalo was experiencing through farming watermelon. I wanted to make millions like him, but I had no idea of how to start the venture.
Taking into consideration that recent years have seen a growing concern and desire to get and remain healthy, especially during this pandemic time, Kenyans have turned to eating plenty of fruits rich in nutrients and with low calories. This rang a bell and I saw an opportunity, I pictured the millions, and I saw Kyalo minting millions.
So I started my journey of discovery. I discovered that growing watermelons in Kenya is quite simple. It is possible to reap millions from a mere acre of land. According to 36 years Kyalo, watermelons flourish in sandy loam soils that are well-drained and to some extent acidic.
He was quick to indicate that farmers who ignore soil testing, risk growing watermelons that develop slowly thus making the fruit size and quality very inferior and of low-grade. Kyalo also noted that the fruit does well in high temperatures ranging between 220 and 280 Celsius and that cold temperature below 150 Celsius may cause the fruit to stagnate.
When it comes to rainfall, I was surprised to find out that watermelons do well in an area with an optimum rainfall of about 600 mm per cropping season with a minimum of 400 mm. According to Kyalo, he warned that excessive humidity may lead to infections on the leaves which will affect the flowering of the plant.
At this point, I took note that wet areas cannot sustain optimum watermelon farming. The plant does well in hot weather areas like the Coastal region, Kajiado, Kitui, Machakos, and other warm highland regions.
“They can also grow in warm weather, and can be found in places like Nyeri and the highlands,” he added.
Kyalo advised that propagation is one of the most important steps to keep in mind. He noted that since watermelons are commonly direct-seeded plants, planting depth must always be about 2cm and a spacing of 1.5-1.8m between rows, while the intra-row spacing should be about 30-60cm.
I was fascinated as I stood staring at his 3-acre land full of sweet, juicy watermelon. Indeed, I could already visualize my future and I was quite pleased.
Kyalo also informed me that for optimum results, soil testing is mandatory before fertilizer application. He revealed that when planting watermelons, a farmer should always incorporate nitrogenous fertilizer into the soil.
“My friend, phosphorus and potassium application are applied depending on the results of the soil tests, and should be applied when planting,” insisted Kyalo.
As I jotted down the pointers my friend was revealing to me on my notebook, I could feel my excitement accentuate and I appreciated that my trip was not in vain. I knew that some of this first-hand information and experiences I would never acquire so easily. I was eager to learn more. I could already picture my happiness, just like the way he defines happiness.
At this point, I was distracted by the sound of bees. I was already prepared to take to my heels but my friend advised me to take it easy. I didn’t have to ask what the bees were doing there, at least from my Agriculture class, I knew they were important for pollination. I smiled and noted it down in my notebook.
Kyalo and I walked through his entire farm as he showed me different weeds that needed to be pruned. He said that weeding is done regularly to keep the field clean. He further revealed that fruit pruning by removing rotten fruits is important because it promotes additional fruit sets and a better size of the remaining melons.
My friend was quick to advice and insist, “Do not prune melons when the vines are wet, it will spread diseases,” that, I noted was a very important point. Additionally, he cautioned me against pests and diseases that affect watermelons. The pests include whiteflies, aphids, flea beetles, and sometimes the red spider. These pests cause various diseases that may affect a farmer’s harvest.
Although I was enjoying my lesson with my friend, at this point, I started getting anxious. Time was not on my side, I needed to rush back to Nairobi. My head was bursting with ideas to include in the business plan I was already writing in my head. However, I wanted to know more about harvesting, storage, and the market.
My friend continued to generously share information, “If you want to know whether your watermelons are ready for harvest, just tap their tough coverage part with your finger. If the sound produced is dull, it means the fruit is ready. Alternatively, you can check at the bottom side of the fruit facing the ground. If it is yellow, this means the fruit is ripe and ready.
Kyalo revealed that an acre piece of land with well-tended melons could produce at least 15,000 fruits that weigh between 8kg and 12kg. Assuming that you sell each at Kshs 100, one can easily make up to Kshs 1,200,000. This will only be half a year’s yield as harvesting is done twice a year.
On our way out of the farm, we made a pass through his storage room where he asked me to handle the melons with extra care. He said he plans to rotate some of the land space with other crops like legumes or cabbage. This, he noted, would help to keep the land fertile by replenishing some of the lost nutrients from the soil.
As I was leaving Kitui, my mind was set. I wanted to do watermelon farming. I was more than ready. I could already picture myself selling in Nairobi Muthurwa market, Marikiti, City Market, Kangemi, name them. I was also considering supplying to companies that manufacture watermelon juice. I waste no time. I wanted to invest in agribusiness as it is the future. I wanted to be happy.
Look out for the next series that will capture my farming journey.