Agronomist's notebook: Why not farm the pricey sweet melon?

Saturday May 25 2019

A trader sells sweet melons in a market in Nairobi.

A trader sells sweet melons in a market in Nairobi. The fruit has several health benefits, such as reducing the anti-inflammatory properties, oxidative stress and kidney cell damage. It also has cancer-preventive antioxidants. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

ANN MACHARIA
By ANN MACHARIA
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Of all the melon varieties, the watermelon is the most popular among consumers and farmers in the country.

There is also the sweet melon, but the growing of this crop has not picked up partly because many farmers are not familiar with it, yet it has huge potential.

Sweet melon belongs to the cucurbits family, just like watermelon. The varieties grown in Kenya include Safari F1. It is normally green, and during ripening, it turns light grey or yellow.

The fruit has several health benefits, such as reducing the anti-inflammatory properties, oxidative stress and kidney cell damage. It also has cancer-preventive antioxidants.

The melon seeds are rich in fat and protein. The fruits have lower sugar levels, unlike others. Last week, I visited a sweet melon farmer in Kajiado, who is growing the fruits under drip irrigation besides onions, watermelons and butternuts.

According to Wilson, the farm manager, the farmer ventured into sweet melon production after doing a market survey and realising there was huge demand for the commodity. Sweet melon fetches big market prizes compared to watermelons.

However, most of the customers come from Nairobi to pick, and sometimes he supplies to them.

Just like watermelon, sweet melon requires warm conditions with loam or sandy soil that is well-drained and fertile.

The melon can be planted by sowing the seeds and later transplanting or direct seeding though the latter is preferred since the seeds are large.

Before planting, the land should be prepared to a fine tilth and well-rotten manure applied to improve the soil structure and fertility. This ensures proper growth of the crop and increases its production.

The crop can be grown under irrigation or it can be rain-fed. The former is preferred to prevent long periods of leaf wetness that encourage fungal diseases. Soil moisture test should be done before watering to avoid waterlogging.

FERTILISER APPLICATION

Space the crop 1m by 1m for one row to another and intercrop distance. Once the planting holes are made, 10 grammes of DAP should be applied in the planting hole and thoroughly mixed with the soil. The seeds are then placed singly, germinating after 7-10 days depending on the variety

NPK 17:17:17 can be used for top dressing to encourage vegetative growth and fruit formation. However, fertiliser application should be made in line with the soil test analysis results.

Weeding should be done during the early stages of development to prevent competition of nutrients and space. The crop later develops a cover that helps to conserve moisture and the growth of weeds.

Once the seeds have germinated, it’s vital to control cutworms that cut the seedlings at the base of the plant. The crop is also affected by spider mites.

Unlike watermelons, the crop is not easily attacked by fruit flies during the early stages of growth. However, during the ripening stage, the plant is easily attacked by fruit flies which are controlled by use of cultural methods, biological methods such azadirachtin and chemicals with active ingredients such as imidacloprid, emactin benzoate+indixocarb, which should be alternated. The farmer should scout for other pests such as whiteflies and thrips.

To maximise on land utilisation, one may plant maize as a border crop. The crop is prone to Alternaria leaf spot, where symptoms begin as small grey to brown spots on the older leaves.

The spores are carried on wind and water when weather conditions are favourable for growth. Alternaria leaf spot can thus be prevented by avoiding long periods of leaf wetness. Other diseases that likely affect the crop include powdery mildew.

Once the fruits have formed, mulch on the lower side to prevent fruit rot. The fruit is ready for harvesting after three to four months, depending on the variety.

Ripe sweet melon is yellowish on the outside with a faintly sweet smell. Mature fruit is easily detached from the vine.

An average sweet melon weighs 1-2kg and sells at Sh50 per kilo at farm gate price, which is a higher compared to melon that is currently trading at Sh25-30 per kilo.