Tomatoes are one the most sought after vegetable commodities worldwide. As such, they are among the most profitable vegetables. Profitability from tomato farming requires attention to the many details of the farming procedure. Consequently, farmers have to acquire the knowledge and skill on tomato farming procedures in order to reap a marketable yield which would enable them to compete in this highly competitive agricultural sector.

Climate

Climate is one of the most important factors in tomato farming. Tomato is generally a warm- season crop so it is highly susceptible to frost. The minimum temperature for seed germination is 10oC with a maximum temperature of 35oC. An optimum growth rate in tomato farming is obtained at 22oC. Adequate and even moisture is essential, particularly during flowering and fruit set. Extremely high temperatures cause problems such as wilting, iron deficiency and reduced growth while prolonged rains result in the manifestation of foliar diseases. Low temperatures in the root zone reduce water and nutrient uptake. For this reason, tomato farming should be practiced in areas with warm, dry temperatures to achieve optimum growth, yield and fruit quality. It is recommended that tomato farmers invest in temperature sensors or alarm systems to allow easy monitoring of temperatures as they can be detrimental to plant growth.

Land preparation

The main objective of soil preparation is to create favourable conditions for tomato plants to develop optimal root system. The choice of preparation systems are determined by the plant requirements and the soil type.  Tomato farming thrives in well drained sandy loams that are well supplied with organic matter. The soil should be well-prepared, loose and in good tilth. Soil preparation has to be done to depths ranging between 200mm to 400mm. Ridging plays a major role in keeping excess water away from the plant, root development and oxygenation of the crop thus should be a high consideration in tomato farming. Farmers can also employ mulching to improve the health of the soil. Note that the specific choice of preparation is dependent on the soil structure, for instance, the focus on heavy soils is to reduce crust formation while on sandy soils it is to reduce compaction and erosion.

Seed Variety

Similar to all types of farming, seed variety is also an important aspect of tomato farming. The choice of seed depends on planting time, fruit quality, adaptability and reliability among other factors. The seed variety selected has to be highly resistant to pests and diseases dominant in the farming area. It is recommended that farmers select a seed variety that they are experienced with and when using a new variety, adequate knowledge should be acquired before the planting season begins. The total amount of seeds required vary with regards to production purpose, seed variety and sowing method.

Planting

Tomatoes require a relatively long growing season. For this reason, they are first planted in a greenhouse or hotbed. From the onset, tomato farming should be done in a place with good lighting, appropriate temperature and fertilization. The plants should be hardened for about a week before transplanting occurs to allow them to survive in adverse weather conditions in the field. This is done by making sure that excessive nitrogen and irrigation is kept to a minimum. They should also be removed from the nursery and taken to an area with good sunlight as part of their field preparatory procedure. After the complete preparation of the land, seedlings are then moved from the nursery and transplanted on moist soil. The soil should be irrigated regularly until the seedlings reach a height of 5cm to 7cm.

Fertiliser Application

In tomato farming, this is an important factor that determines the success of the crop. Fertiliser requirements depend on the fertility of the soil. It is crucial to note that all additions of lime, fertilizer and manure should be based on recommendations from a soil test that should be done prior to planting. Organic mature should be added to the soil to boost its fertility. Coupled with inorganic manure in appropriate quantities, optimum growth, yield and fruit quality is enhanced. It is important to make sure that fertiliser application is done at the correct time and in the right quantities. Excessive nitrogen results in delayed maturity and excessive vegetative growth. Nitrogen and potash should be incorporated into the soil prior to planting. Banded nitrogen and potash can be detrimental to early and total yields. Phosphorus would be best banded and starter solutions should always be used. Below is a breakdown of nutrient requirements in different stages of tomato farming.

  • 0 – 5 weeks:  Vegetative growth occurs with high Nitrogen requirements.
  • 6 – 12 weeks: The flowering stage with high Potassium requirements.
  • 12 – 20 weeks: The fruit set and fill stage with high Calcium, Magnesium requirements.

Pests and Diseases

The key to controlling pests and diseases falls into the selection of pest resistant seed varieties, spacing during planting stage as well as application of appropriate chemical or manual measures. The row spacing should be kept at 1.8 to 2.5m apart to allow easy movement between the rows in order to effectively control pests and diseases. Although tomatoes are susceptible to various nematodes, the root-knot nematode is the most prevalent in tomato farming. Roots are attacked resulting in the development of galls that reduce the size and efficiency of the root system. Infestation should be controlled as soon as it appears before it spreads to the whole yield. The effects of infestation on tomato farming include stunted plants, reduced fruit set as well as compromised yield quality and quantity. Note that pests and diseases are rampant in warm areas usually with sandy soils.

Weed Control

Weed control is very important in tomato farming. Weeds can be controlled through chemical and mechanical means. Most farmers employ mulching using a black plastic for weed control, especially when the plant is grown under plastic row tunnels. In spite of numerous herbicides available, most of them will fall short if not coupled with regular cultivation.  Cultivation should be shallow; it should not be done too close to the plant as it might cause harm. Appropriate herbicides should be used in the recommended quantities in cases of disease or pest outbreak.

Harvesting Tomatoes

Depending on the seed variety, tomatoes are often ready for picking 3 to 6 months after sowing. Marketable yields of ripe tomatoes vary dramatically with the weather. However, when the tomato farming procedure is done correctly, farmers are guaranteed bumper harvest. The most important aspect is the selection of seed variety that is compatible with the environment (soil, climate, level of resistance to pests and diseases rampant in the area) so as to allow the plant to grow well. Read more about harvesting tomatoes.