GREG Growing Seedless Watermelon in the Arkansas Valley

Project Leader: Michael Hirakata, Arkansas Valley Growers, Rocky Ford

Technical Advisor: Mike Bartolo, CSU Arkansas River Valley Research Center

Project Year: 2003

Summary of 2003 Annual Report

We tested the feasibility of growing seedless watermelon in the Rocky Ford area. We compared the costs associated with direct-seeding and transplanting seedless watermelons into a production system using black plastic mulch and drip irrigation. We also looked at growing seedless watermelon on bare ground with conventional furrow irrigation.

We grew a total of 56.7 acres of seedless watermelon during the 2003 growing season. Of the 43.8 acres that were planted into plastic mulch, we had to replant about 30% of those acres due to a poor germination rate. Overall, on the plastic mulch, the germination rate was approximately 65%. The watermelons were seeded into the plastic mulch the week of April 21 st and harvest was complete by the end of August (Labor Day).

Of the 12.9 acres seeded into bare ground, the entire amount had to be reseeded. These melons were planted on May 1 st and reseeded on May 21 st . The harvest on the bare ground melons was late (September 5 th ) and we had a more difficult time marketing these melons since the market falls off after Labor Day. Yields and profitability on bare ground were still good.

All of the seedless watermelon transplants were initially planted in the greenhouse on April 14 th . Seedlings were set into black plastic mulch on May 16 th . The transplants required a considerable amount of hand labor. The transplants grew well but were eventually overgrown by the adjacent direct-seeded crop. As a result, we were unable to determine the yield of the transplanted crop. The earliness of the transplanted crop was about the same as the seeded crop. We feel the extra expense of growing and handling transplants was not justified.

Even as difficult as seedless watermelons were to grow, they were still profitable. The demand for the melons was very good. Our retail buyers were able to take nearly everything we grew. Despite the difficulty with stand establishment, the yields were surprisingly high. We shipped over 43 semi loads of melons and yields on the plastic mulch were over 33,000 lbs per acre. The quality of the melons was outstanding and we had many compliments from our customers.

We feel seedless watermelon have a tremendous potential as a crop in the Arkansas Valley . We will continue to adjust our growing methods to achieve better stands and yields. According to our buyers, the demand for seedless watermelons will remain strong and we will likely have to increase acreage to meet that demand.

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