A beginner's guide to growing tomatoes

A show goer views some tomatoes n exhibition at the Syngenta stand on the first day of the Mombasa International ASK show at Mkomani grounds. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

Last week, I shared an article on controlling tuta absoluta disease in tomatoes and the feedback was overwhelming. Most farmers are interested in how to grow a healthy tomato crop and so this week I will focus on the same. Growing tomatoes is relatively easy. However, to succeed you need to understand simple tips for favourable yields.

Choose the right variety

Choosing the right variety is the first step towards succeeding as a tomato farmer. Some of the popular tomato varieties are: Money Maker, Anna F1, Kilele F1, Cal-J and Mavuno F1.

The prime consideration when choosing tomato variety relates to its vegetative growth habit.

The next consideration is where you intend to plant your crop. Is it an open field or greenhouse? If you are growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, choose from varieties bred specifically for that purpose. The warmth and humidity that promote rapid plant growth in a heated greenhouse can also be favourable to fungi, bacteria, and other plant pathogens. If you are growing in the open field, choose varieties resistant to diseases that affect tomatoes in your area.

Tomato fruits inside Samson Tanui's garden at Ngeria, Uasin Gishu County. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Harden tomato seedlings

Hardening enables the plant seedlings to adapt to changes in temperature or exposure to harsh weather conditions. It can be done by gradually increasing seedlings exposure to natural weather four weeks before transplanting. If you overlook this stage, the shock of transplantation may stunt or even kill your tomato plants.

Site selection

Although there are plenty of places where you can grow tomatoes, not all are ideal. Consider aspects of climate and soil conditions. Find an area with full sun. Make sure your tomatoes are not in a particularly exposed location or they may be damaged by strong winds. If you are growing in containers, choose containers large enough to accommodate your plants. Don't plant them too close to other plants, or to each other. And don't put them far away from - water and compost/ fertiliser bins etc.

Water the plant adequately

Inconsistent watering of plants can lead to development of calcium deficiency which causes blossom end rot and fruit splitting. Develop a consistent watering schedule to sustain growth.

Watering is most crucial during the flowering and fruiting stage. However adding too much water at the fruiting stage can cause fruits to split, or increase the risk of tomato disease. It is also a good idea to reduce and even stop watering as the end of the season approaches. This could increase the number of mature fruits you get. Water tomato plants at the base to avoid getting any water on the foliage and fruits. Water resting on foliage can increase the risk of diseases, and sometimes cause scorching in hot sun.

Proper application of Nitrogen

Nitrogen application on tomato plants can greatly increase yields.

However, too much nitrogen causes plants to put more energy into growing leaves than fruits. To prevent these issues, make sure that you use the best fertiliser for tomatoes or opt for natural compost.

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