Of all the fruits, most people enjoy watermelons the most.
They are juicy and delicious especially when refrigerated, and contain a high percentage of water which is perfect for hydration after a hot day.
Because we enjoy watermelons this much, the demand for the fruit ever on the increase.
Watermelon is a well-known fruit in Uganda, enjoyed at any time of the day either before or after a meal.
This is why today Seeds of Gold is showing you how to start a watermelon farming business.
It is not unusual to think that since watermelon farming is so lucrative, it would take lots of capital to start and would consume a lot of time.
This article will give you enough details on how to start your own watermelon farm. It will show you some pitfalls to avoid and how to make the most profit of your business.
You need money
The specific amount of capital is tinged on costs varying with time and place.
However, you need money to cover things such as:
• The cost of a suitable farmland.
• Buying watermelon seed.
• Irrigation. Watermelon need lots of water so having an irrigation system in place will go a long way.
• The cost of equipment for the operation. For a small-scale farm, you do not need much equipment because every phase of the farming cycle can be carried out manually.
• The cost of buying fertilisers and pesticides.
• The cost of hiring labour. Again for a small-scale farm, you can do most of these things yourself especially if you know your way around the farm. It will only take you time and sweat but will save you more in working cost.
These costs are not fixed; they are mostly negotiable and vary with time and place. You are encouraged to do research and find out what these things would cost you.
Get a suitable farmland: nice site, good soil
To start watermelon farming you do not need just any type of land. Your farmland should meet some specific qualities for your crops to do well.
Watermelons do well on loamy and well-drained soil with pH ranging between 6 – 6.7.
The land should be close or have access to good, clean water supply. Watermelons need water, lots of water. The land you choose should have good supply of rainfall or any water such as stream.
If the water supply is not sufficient, consider constructing a good drainage system. Just keep this in mind: watermelons are more than 93 per cent water so they need lots of water to do well.
Watermelons also require sunlight. In fact, your location of farmland should provide about six to eight hours of sunshine daily.
When you prepare your farmland and get your seeds, the next action is to plant the seeds.
The best times to plant watermelon are between March and July. If you are planting more than one row, then make sure you space them to at least six feet apart.
This should give the tender vines enough space to grow. The soil temperature should warm to at least 70 degrees.
For seedlings that are tender, provide adequate safety for them. Watermelons are heavy feeders, a farmer is required to add reasonable quantity of manure and leaves during planting.
Before flowers begin forming out, apply fertiliser rich in Nitrogen. Fertiliser rich in Phosphorus and Potassium should be applied when watermelon flowers sprout out.
Watermelon needs water to grow. This should not be a problem if you plant during the rainy season and your farm has enough rain water. If you live in the north where rainfall is sparse, then you can construct your own irrigation system.
When watermelon does not get enough water, it becomes bitter. Nobody likes bitter watermelon.
Weeds compete with good crops for nutrition and water. You should visit your farm regularly to remove weeds. This is not only good for watermelon, it is standard farming practice, one you should not take lightly.
Take care of pests
Your primary enemy in watermelon farming will be pests. Some specie of pests such as aphids, fusarium wilt and cucumber beetle attack watermelon.
This is not good for your profit. Therefore, it is important to apply the appropriate pesticides.
As the fruits ripen, they can start to rot, so place cardboard materials underneath the fruits to prevent this from happening.
Harvesting and marketing
The maturity days range from 70-90 days. It is always best practice not to pick them until they mature. How do you know when they are ready for picking?
A professor of horticulture, Dr Bill Rhodes suggests that to be certain that a watermelon is ready for picking, “one need to thump it, if the sound from the water melon is hollow, then it is a clear indication that it is ready to be harvested.”
But if you feel thumping of a large number of watermelon fruit will be a burden. You should note the following signs:
• If the underside turns yellow in colour.
• If the stem starts to wither or dries off.
• If it has a glossy look.
• If it stops growing.
Before you start picking your watermelon, start setting your marketing channels in motion. Make sure you have a ready market. Visit your local market and find out how other farmers sell theirs.
The reason is you want to have a ready system in place once the watermelons ripen. Any delay and they may start to rot.
You can also contact, fruit shops and grocery stores and make a deal to sell your produce there.
How to get watermelon seeds for planting
There are several ways to get watermelon seeds for planting. One of such ways is to visit an existing watermelon farmer and buy from them.
The price will differ with each farmer but you need good seeds of the best variety. Your interactions with them will inform you on which way to lean.
Another way is to visit The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). They have an office in Kampala. You can also reach them via their website.
Lastly, you can get the seeds from several agrovets in major towns.