Welcome if you are already be a tomato farmer or are interested in joining this multimillion industry, take a seat and enjoy the ride.
Any crop venture's success is dependent on the seed. However you do everything else right, if you have inferior seed your yields will be low hence realize low returns.
Get quality certified seed from your farm input stockist and embark on seedbed preparation.
Basic seedbed characteristics
When choosing a seedbed look for a piece of land that is:
i. Well-drained and fertile soils,
ii. Gets shade during the hot part of the day
iii. Easy to protect from access by animals.
Types of seedbeds
There are four main types of seedbeds namely:
i. Raised-bed nurseries: These are found in areas prone to flood to avoid flooding and waterlogging which causes soil-borne diseases.
ii. Sunken-bed nurseries: These are found in dry areas and are designed to conserve water that would have been lost through evapotranspiration.
iii. Planting pots: The pots are made of paper, polythene or geo-textile materials. These are normally used for tomato seedlings used in greenhouses.
iv. Planting trays: These are plastic trays meant for the small seeded seedlings such as tomato and other vegetable seedlings.
Treatment of growth media
The seedlings will usually be planted in soil though nowadays growth media is being used especially for greenhouse production. When soil is used it should be treated with fungicide to kill the soil-borne microorganisms which cause diseases. In organic farming, soil or growth media is sterilized through solarization. This means exposure of wet soil which has been tightly covered with polythene to solar (sun) radiation, the high temperatures generated kill the bad micro-organisms saving the farmer from using inorganic chemicals.
Fertile soil means one that has mineral element which are easily released and absorbed by the roots. The minerals are obtained through manure or inorganic fertilizer application. Normally farmyard manure is applied at the rates of 10kg per square meter where the soil depth is 15cm. You can also apply phosphate fertilizer such as DAP (Diammonium Phosphate) at the rate of 20gm per square meter in row application incorporated into the soil together with the manure. The phosphate fertilizer is for promotion of vigorous root development.
Preparation of the nursery bed
We have already discussed the main factors to consider in nursery bed preparation. Now we need to measure the nursery layout on the farm.
Conventionally, a nursery width should ideally be one meter wide and any length you desire. This one meter width allows you to work on the nursery from both sides without stepping inside and damaging the seedlings. Once you have marked out the nursery e.g. 1m by 4m, you remove any weeds before digging. Mark it using sticks and sisal twine as guides. Apply manure at the rate of 10 kg per meter square, spread it evenly and then dig in to a depth of 15cm. Once it's well prepared, make furrows spaced 10cm apart along the nursery length with a depth of 2cm.
In order to drill small-sized seeds it's important to mix them with fine soil and spread them thinly along the furrows. Note that the soil used will assist you to avoid dropping too many seeds at the same spot. Using a stick or the back of your fingers, lightly cover the seeds with soil and water using a watering can. Cover the bed with mulch and continue watering twice a day for he next two weeks.
Control of nursery pests and diseases
Tomato seedlings may be affected by early blight during warm wet seasons and damping-off during cool wet seasons. These are fungal diseases which are easily controlled by spraying Mancozeb immediately seedlings attain the fourth leaf stage. Damping-off is easily noticeable by shrivelling of seedlings at the base and turning brown. Affected seedlings should be uprooted and disposed off by burning.
During the first two weeks the shade should be removed once all the seedlings have sprouted and attained four leaves. During the third week water the seedbed only in the evening. During the fourth week, water on alternate days so as to harden-off the seedlings to prepare them to be strong for transplanting. Failure to harden-off means seedlings will be too fragile and will suffer transplanting shock and can lead to heavy loss of seedlings.
Maintain weeds by removing them manually.
Finally prepare your field well and harrow during this time to await seedling transplanting.
Enjoy your seedlings production and hope you shall attain over 95% seedling survival rate by practicing the principles above.
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