Harvesting of Sweet Melons typically occurs after two to three months, depending on the variety. [Courtesy]

Cantaloupe Sweet Melon, a member of the cucurbits family, is gaining traction in Kenyan agriculture, although it remains relatively unfamiliar to many farmers. The slow but steadily growing demand for this nutritious fruit is prompting increased interest among agricultural enthusiasts, as highlighted by farmer Makau Mbua from Kitui.

Cantaloupe Sweet Melon boasts a range of health benefits, making it an attractive option for consumers. Rich in potassium, it plays a crucial role in controlling blood pressure and offers antioxidant properties with anti-inflammatory benefits. Furthermore, the fruit contains elements that contribute to reducing kidney cell damage and preventing cancer.

Key varieties of Cantaloupe Sweet Melon available in Kenya include Safari F1, Galia F1, and 6023 Rani. Successful cultivation is dependent on specific ecological conditions, with the fruit thriving in warm temperatures and well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Sandy loam or loamy soils are deemed ideal, with a slightly acidic to neutral pH ranging from 6.0 to 7.5.

Makau Mbua emphasizes the significance of testing and amending the soil as needed, advocating for the addition of organic matter to enhance fertility. He advises thorough soil preparation through tilling to a depth of about 12 inches, creating a loose and well-aerated planting bed.

Propagation methods for Cantaloupe Sweet Melon include direct seeding or transplanting, with direct seeding often considered the superior option. Proper spacing, approximately three to five feet between plants and five to six feet between rows is crucial for adequate growth and air circulation.

Irrigation is a critical aspect of cultivation, especially during flowering and fruit development, with drip irrigation preferred to maintain dry foliage and reduce disease risks. Mbua stresses the importance of avoiding waterlogged conditions to prevent root rot.

Balanced fertilization, emphasizing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, is recommended, with caution against excessive nitrogen application that may hinder fruit development. Pollination, facilitated by bees and other pollinators, is essential for fruit sets, necessitating a pesticide-free environment to protect these vital contributors.

Support structures, such as trellising or cages, are advised for vine support, particularly in limited-space scenarios. Regular monitoring for pests like aphids, cucumber beetles, and spider mites is essential, employing integrated pest management to minimize chemical pesticide use.

Harvesting of Sweet Melons typically occurs after two to three months, depending on the variety, with visual cues like color change from green to yellow indicating maturity. Harvesting in the morning is recommended for optimal flavor and sugar content.

Post-harvest handling involves careful treatment to avoid bruising or damage, with storage in a cool, dry place or the refrigerator to extend shelf life. While a dedicated market for sweet melons is yet to fully materialise in Kenya, growing demand has driven the average price to approximately Sh100 per kilo. Nairobi, especially in supermarkets, presents a promising market due to heightened demand from suburban residents and the Asian community, which widely consumes the fruit. As awareness and appreciation for Cantaloupe Sweet Melon continue to rise, it holds the potential to become a lucrative venture for Kenyan farmers.