It is one of the highly cultivated and consumed crops believed to have originated almost 5,000 years ago from the Kalahari Desert of Africa.
When you consider quick cash in farming, watermelon is among the crops to plant. The gestation is 70 and 90 days (depending on varieties), average days for maize and sweet potatoes.
Cultivated all over tropical climate, it is produced all over in Nigeria but at different periods for optimal bumper harvest.
Time of planting
Watermelon, according to a plant physiologist at the Horticultural Research Institute of Nigeria (NIHORT), Mr Kayode Ajayi, is best planted at the outset of the raining season or when the raining season is almost done. This, he explained, would allow for low relative humidity, a condition essential for normal growth of the crop in southern Nigeria. In the northern parts, he said, early season planting is in May and late season planting is July. But with functional irrigation in the north, it could be planted round the year, accounting for why it is usually brought from the north.
Watermelon can be planted on flat land or on ridges/plant beds depending on the nature of the soil. According the plant physiologist, if the water table level is high (in the core raining season), seed beds or ridges are essential. It requires loamy soil or silt loam soil and it also performs well on heavy soil if it is well drained. It does not tolerate water logging and so, if planted on heavy soil, ridging will be helpful to improve drainage. On loamy soil, it is usually planted on the flat land.
One way to determine when watermelon is ripe is to watch the tendril closest to the melon stem. A tendril is a modified leaf or stem in the shape of slender, spirally coil. When it turns brown and dries up, the melon is ripe. The trouble with this method is that with some watermelon varieties, the tendril dries and drops off more than a week before the melon is fully ripe. The surest sign of ripeness in most watermelon varieties is the color of the bottom spot where the melon sits on the ground. As the watermelon matures, the spot turns from almost white to a rich yellow. Also, all watermelons lose the powdery or slick appearance on the top and take on a dull look when fully ripe.
According to an estimate by a watermelon farmer/dealer, Mr T.J Oyinlola, also corroborated by Mr Ajayi at NIHORT, planting one hectare (15 plots of land) of watermelon would require about N190,000. Breaking the cost down, they said land clearing, plowing and harrowing one hectare mechanically would cost about N20,000; seeds, N50,000; planting and weeding labour would cost N34,000; fertilizer (four bags and application labour) and N30,000; insecticide, application labour, N20,000; spayer, N10,000 and other expenses, N20,000.
Yield potential and marketing
On one hectare of land, 10,000 seeds can be planted using 1metre by 1metre spacing, according to the NIHORT plant physiologist. He explained that if 10,000 watermelon seeds are successfully grown, each will produce at least two big fruits if fertilizer is properly applied and weeds controlled at the appropriate time. So, no fewer than 20,000 watermelons would be harvested on one hectare of land, all things being equal.
According to street value survey of watermelon, a mini truck containing 500 units of the product is sold for N50,000. Dividing 20,000 estimated harvest by 500 would make 40 mini trucks of watermelon. Multiplying this by N50,000 would mean N2 million. This was the minimum estimate obtained from NIHORT, confirmed by one Usman Mohammed, a watermelon seller around Jericho area of Ibadan, Oyo State.
Mohammed said: “I usually buy a mini truck-load of watermelon at the rate of N50,000 and I sell each of the 500 units between N200 and N350.”
He added that a bigger truck containing between 1,200 and 1,500 big units of the fruit is sold for between N180,000 and N250,000 at the popular Bodija Market in Ibadan.
Marketing watermelon, they all say, is easier, as many bulk buyers about in major cities, especially at fruits market. Mr Ajayi also said one could sell the produce to supermarkets and local fruit retailers. [Source: TRIBUNE]