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Commercial Farming of Grafted Watermelon Seedlings in SA

Commercial Farming from Grafted Watermelon Seedlings in South Africa

Watermelon is popular for its juicy, sweet flesh. It is a long-season crop grown during the summer months and although commercial farming from grafted watermelon seedlings is relatively new to South African farmers, the cultivation of the fruit dates back a very long time.

Large-scale cultivation was already done in ancient Egypt and the plant is now grown in countries across the globe. As part of the Cucurbitaceae family, it is related to pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers, and musk melons. It grows a vine that sprawls on the surface. The plant has both male and female flowers but with the seedless types, pollinators are needed. The plant has a taproot that branches out and grows up to 1 m deep, with several lateral roots growing out from the main root. The sprawling vine can grow more than 5 m in length, with secondary shoots branching from the main vine. The plant is characterised by large, dark-green leaves.

Growing from grafted watermelon seedlings provides the commercial farmer with several benefits such as an improved tolerance for soil-borne pathogens. Improved fruit quality and longer shelf life are also amongst the reasons for choosing grafted over non-grafted seedlings. The optimal growth temperature for the crop is between 18 and 35 °C. Too-low temperatures can cause a delay in crop maturation. It is best to grow the crop in silt loam or sandy loam soil but keep in mind that the plant does not perform well in saline soil. If growing in extremely sandy soil with limited water-holding capacity, the farmer must pay careful attention to irrigation management to avoid water stress. Additional fertiliser may be required to ensure optimal nutrient levels.

Farmers should avoid transplanting to heavy clay soil if possible. If not possible, care should be taken with irrigation management to prevent root-zone diseases that are related to oversaturated soil around the root zone. The plant performs best in soil with a pH of between 5,7 and 6,7 and the preferred pH level for the best yields is 6. Manganese toxicity is often noted in soil with a pH of 5,4 or lower but during the rainy season, the condition can occur in soil with a higher pH as well if it has been oversaturated for a prolonged period. To prevent manganese toxicity, the farmer can grow the crop in ridges or apply loam to the soil during autumn according to needs as identified via a soil analysis.

Grafted seedlings provide characteristics such as a high tolerance to fusarium present on previous watermelon fields. This makes it possible to grow the crop in soil where watermelon was previously propagated, thereby reducing the crop-rotation time. A lower plant population is possible without this having a negative effect on the yield. Instead of having to plant up to 6000 seedlings on a hectare, the farmer can plant 3300 plants and get the same yield.

Grafted watermelon seedlings can now be ordered in bulk from Hishtil South Africa for large-scale commercial crop farming.

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