Schulpad melons introduces Year-round melon production in the very north of South Africa
Mid-summer rains heavily disrupted production in some areas
Melons require semi-arid areas with low rainfall and low relative humidity. Little surprise then that the fruit can be grown in large parts of the country, especially the western side, where it is often used as a cash crop in newly established citrus orchards or vineyards.
Some of South Africa’s largest melon producers are situated to the north of the Soutpansberg Mountains, close to the borders with Zimbabwe and Botswana.
At Schulpad Boerdery in the Waterpoort district, northern Limpopo Province, Mannetjie Storm plants melon 50 weeks of the year to ensure a constant supply to the market year-round, with summer plantings consisting 60% of the orange-fleshed melon (the muskmelon) and 40% of the green-fleshed Honeydew type. Winter plantings consist mostly of the green-fleshed Honeydew melon. From planting until harvesting runs 10 to 14 weeks.
At Schulpad Boerdery, in the northern foothills of the Soutpansberg, the melon production is focused on Caribbean King F1 in the summer, a Rijk Zwaan hybrid variety with orange flesh, and the Star 8815 or DelightFul, both F1 hybrid Eastern Shipper types suited to cooler conditions. Honeydew varieties like Salgari F1 (for summer) and Dina Dew F1 (for winter) are used, from South African seed company Starke Ayres.
He delivers about 60% of his production directly to retailers, the rest to the fresh produce markets and processors.
The heavy rains at the beginning of the year affected the area’s production badly. Fruit lying on wet soil easily spoiled and from January until early March there was a little harvest. Shelf life was dramatically lowered by the rain; without rain, a shelf life of 21 days can be expected but this dropped to about 5 to 8 days during this period.
Further to the west is Alldays, where Flip Vogel divides his melon production halfway between muskmelons (Touchdown and Acutfresh in winter, Majestic in summer) and honeydew (Honeypac and Dinadew in winter, Honey star in summer). He is also able to grow and harvest melons year-round; he markets the majority of his fruit on the fresh produce markets of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Here, where heavy rains over a prolonged period at the start of the year also disrupted production, a boom in the fruit fly population compounded the impact.
Roughly 100km to the west of Waterpoort is Janlouis Boerdery by the Mogalakwena River, where melons have been grown since 1993. Their granitic soil is sandier and with pre-emptive measures against anthracnose during the heavy rains, they managed to get through with minimal loss and disruption to harvest, says Tinus Venter.
“Production conditions are different here compared to the Waterpoort area. We get very different results with the same cultivars,” he continues. Their muskmelon production relies almost exclusively on Majestic, a new Eastern Shipper F1 hybrid from Sakata, and Fargo, an F1 from Alliance Seeds. “We’re really very happy with them. We get good vegetative growth, which is important for sugar production. With these we found that brix levels are good even during heavy rain. This year we received so many enquiries about Majestic.” Majestic is a long shelf life Eastern Shipper type melon.
Janlouis Boerdery doesn’t plant right through the year; in two weeks they’ll end a summer season that has been a very good one for them, to start planting again in June in order to harvest again in August. The Honeydew types make up 30 to 35% of their production; South Africans have a preference for the orange-fleshed muskmelon or cantaloupe.
Venter laments the discontinuation of the Honey Chow line. “It was a very successful cultivar for us and we bought all the seed we could while it was still available, but at the moment we’re trialling two varieties.”
South African consumers are not familiar with the Piel de Sapo type melon (called a PDS melon in South Africa), so popular in Spain, and attempts at its commercial establishment in South Africa have slowed. Woolworths has attempted to introduce consumers to this white-fleshed variety by presenting it sans skin, together with other more unfamiliar varieties like the Yellow Canary, but it will take more sustained marketing to induce South Africans to buy an ‘ugly’ fruit. As one seed developer put it to FreshPlaza, “as a consumer you really have to convince yourself to buy a PDS melon”.
As it is, melons are one of the more expensive fruits on the market and price-conscious consumers tend to be conservative, especially, it seems, in the north of the country. Just as there’s a difference in watermelon preference between the Cape and the north (the Cape taking rounder ones than the north where watermelons should resemble a rugby ball), so it seems that Cape consumers are more amenable to yellow-skinned melons like Yellow Canary.
Even though the melon family comes from the desert, the fruit can suffer sunburn. Vegetative cover is important, which is why a foliar spray programme should be sustained until the very end of the season. Shade netting isn’t viable across large melon acreages; though sweetpepper production in these northern parts of the country makes shade netting an economically sensible option.
Mannetjie Storm says that the light intensity measurements he takes on his farm have shown an increase in light intensity over the past five years and, lately, he has been observing more sunburn on his sweetpeppers from late afternoon winter sun when the rays penetrate the 40% shade netting with a more acute angle.
“Over the last three years the atmosphere has changed. The stories about the atmosphere changing aren’t stories, it’s the truth,” he say