Tomato Planting and Nursery Preparation
Ploughing (or digging) is necessary to prepare the land for a new crop. It improves the structure and water holding capacity. In areas where water is a limiting factor, ploughing enhances water conservation as well.
Fallow ploughing the land after harvesting the previous crop improves the soil structure and water-holding capacity. It also helps to reduce soil-borne pests and diseases by exposing the soil to the hot sun.
Deep ploughing is necessary to break an impermeable hard subsoil layer (ploughing pan), remove the weeds and bring the land to a fine tilth. It also encourages root growth. It is often necessary to harrow two times, breaking the clods and removing crop residues to level the land.
Cultivating tomato on raised beds, ridges or furrows facilitates drainage of water and irrigation. Despite this, more than 60% of the crop is still cultivated using flood irrigation
Nursery bed preparation
A nursery bed is a specially prepared portion of land put aside for raising seedlings. It acts as a temporary home for young plants until they are eventually planted in a permanent garden.
Tomatoes are normally transplanted because much better results are gained when seedlings are raised in a nursery. Two methods of raising seedling in nurseries can be used:
- sowing in seedbed.
- sowing in seedling tray.
The nursery should be located near the planting site so as the transplants are taken to the main garden without any damages that may be involved where distances are long, located near a water source because irrigation may be necessary, protected from strong wind, should not be located on a slope unless it is terraced since this may lead to erosion of not only the necessary topsoil but the plants as well.
They should also face where sun comes from as plants need sunlight for better growth and should not be located in a waterlogged area. It is the farmer’s choice depending on the type of soil whether to do a sunken nursery bed or a raised bed.
Clear all the weeds and grass. Measure one meter wide of any convenience length and dig well. Test the soil’s acidity. Tomatoes favor a more acidic soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. Use a pH soil testing kit, available at home improvement and garden stores, to test the pH levels of the soil. Fertilize every three meters square with one wheelbarrow of compost and sand to make a thick layer then water the bed
Plant your seeds in rows.
It is recommended that lines face where the sun rises. Make straight lines, 2.cm deep at a spacing of 7 cm apart. The size of the seed is the size of soil you put or cover the seed with. Mulch the bed with dry grass, and then water it using a watering can. Water the bed whenever it is necessary and avoid overwatering it.
Water about once a day in the morning only.
Do not water at night, as this creates dangerous conditions for your plants as insects love wet dark environments and rot and other diseases such as mold, verticillium rot, etc. are easily avoided by watering during the morning.
Also, watering during high noon isn’t great because most of the water will evaporate before the plants are able to absorb.
The seeds will start germinating after 5 – 7 days. Remove the grass and then put a shade 1 m high and ensure some sunlight goes through.
When seedlings are ready for transplanting remove the shade a day before transplanting as this gives the seedling chance to get used to the strong sun-shine. Transplant early in the morning or late in the evening (from 6 – 10 am or 4 – 6 pm).Transplant the seedling to the field 3 to 6 weeks after sowing. A week before transplanting, seedlings should be hardened by reducing the application of water, but 12-14 hours before they are taken out of the seedbed they should be thoroughly watered again to avoid excessive damage to the roots.
Seedlings of 15-25 cm tall with 3-5 true leaves are most suitable for transplanting. Transplanting should be done in the afternoon or on a cloudy day to reduce the transplanting shock.
Type of plant Distance between rows and plants:
❖ Bush type (determinate) 1.0 x 0.5 m
❖ Semi-bush type (semi-determinate) 0.75 x 0.5 m
❖ Tall type (indeterminate) 0.75 x 0.5 m
Water the plants immediately once they have been transplanted. When removing the seedlings, keep a large clump of soil attached to the roots to prevent them from being damaged. Spacing between plants and rows depends on the cultivar growth habit, soil type, cropping system and also whether the plants are to be supported by stakes or left on the ground.
The common spacing is 50 cm between plants and 75 – 100 cm between rows. If the tomatoes are to be supported by sticks, then the distances between rows can be decreased to 20-40 cm.
Make the holes for the plants deep enough so that the lowest leaves are at ground level. Press the soil firmly around the root, and water around the base of the plant to settle the soil.
After transplanting, mulch can be placed on the ground around the plants to protect them from heat during the first five days. Mulch is composed of plant remains (e.g. rice-straw or sorghum-straw) used to cover the soil to control weed growth, prevent erosion and conserve water.
Care should be taken not to make the lowest leaves wet, as this can stimulate the growth of mould. A more advanced method is to put plastic mulch on the beds and punch holes in the plastic before planting.
The transplanted plants should be protected from heat during the first five days, e.g. by covering them with large leaves.
Source: Tomato farming by Timothy Angwenyi