Wild watermelon (Citrullus lanatus L.) landrace production in response to three seedling growth media and field planting dates.
The challenge of food security requires that agricultural production is no longer based on a narrow genetic material present in conventional crops. Whereas conventional crops have been genetically improved to suit management practices of the modern farmer, the future farmer requires that there be access to a wide variety of genetic material for economic exploitation and to respond to the challenges of climate change in a sustainable fashion. This study was designed to learn about production of wild water melon [Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsumura and Nakai] from seed germination, seedling establishment and field crop production. The specific objectives of the study were (a) to determine the effect of water stress on three landraces of watermelon differing in seed colour and provenance during seedling establishment, (b) to determine the effect of planting date on crop growth and yield under field conditions, and (c) to relate proline accumulation to water stress in wild watermelon. Three seedlots, ‘B’, ‘DB’ and ‘VDB” were derived from seeds collected from subsistence farming communities of the Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal. Following one season of seed production in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, seeds were tested for germination capacity, before seedlot response to water stress was determined in three substrates made of pine bark, a 1:1 mixture of fine sand and pine bark and fine sand only. The substrates were kept at 75% FC, 50% F.C and 25% F.C., to create varying levels of water regimes during 12 weeks of seedling growth in a glasshouse (16/21oC (day/night) and 60% RH). Leaf proline content was determined at seedling harvest. Crop production under field conditions occurred at one site with three planting dates late September 2008, November 2008 and January 2009, respectively. There were significant differences among seedlots with respect to seed quality and seedling yield, which consistently showed that B > VDB > DB. The differences in seedlots continued in the same order even in response to field conditions. Wild watermelon was responsive to water stress during seedling growth, but high water regimes compromised water use efficiency. Proline accumulation correlated with water stress. The best plant growth and yield under field conditions was obtained when planting occurred in September, followed by November and January plantings, respectively. Early planting was also associated with high crop growth rate and larger fruit size. It is concluded that despite being a desert crop, wild watermelon responds to water deficits during seedling growth. Results of field studies cannot be conclusively used to determine crop response to water stress, although they gave a good indication of crop response to different conditions of rainfall and temperature at the study site from September to March.
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