Cherry tomatoes are easy-to-grow crops that can be enjoyed both raw and cooked, making them perfect for salads, salsas, and sauces.
The cherry tomato is a type of small, round tomato believed to be an intermediate genetic admixture between wild currant-type tomatoes and domesticated garden tomatoes. Ranging in size from a thumb tip up to the size of a golf ball, cherry tomatoes can exhibit spherical to slightly oblong shapes.
Growing cherry tomatoes can be a rewarding experience, and they are well-suited for both garden beds and containers. Clement Njeru, a farmer from Kiambu, cultivates the tomatoes in a greenhouse. He employs a drip irrigation system to provide water at the base of the plants, avoiding wetting the foliage. Here are key considerations for farming cherry tomatoes.
Cherry tomatoes thrive in full sunlight, requiring a location that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Ensure well-draining soil rich in organic matter, and amend it with compost to enhance fertility. The soil’s slightly acidic to neutral pH (around 6.0 to 7.0) is ideal for cherry tomatoes. “Rich, organic matter in the soil helps with water retention and nutrient availability,” says Njeru.
Choosing the right variety
Various cherry tomato varieties are available, each with its own flavour profile, size, and growth habit. Popular varieties include Sweet 100, Sungold, and Tiny Tim.
Propagate cherry tomatoes from seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before transplanting. Alternatively, purchase seedlings from a reputable seeds and seedlings firm to ensure clean produce. Transplant seedlings once the soil has warmed, and all risk of frost has passed.
Planting: Space cherry tomato plants according to the recommendations on the seed packet or plant tag, typically 18 to 24 inches apart. They benefit from support structures such as stakes or cages, to keep them upright and prevent fruits from touching the ground, reducing the risk of diseases.
Fertilise the plants regularly with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer according to package instructions. Too much nitrogen can result in excessive foliage growth at the expense of fruit production.
“Use a balanced fertiliser with a higher potassium content to promote fruit development. Follow the recommended application rates on the fertilizer package,” advised Njeru.
While cherry tomatoes do not require heavy pruning, removing some lower leaves can improve air circulation and reduce the risk of diseases.
Pest and disease management
Keep an eye out for common tomato pests like aphids and hornworms, and diseases such as blight and wilt. Practice good garden hygiene and use organic or chemical control methods as needed.
Cherry tomatoes are usually ready for harvest 60 to 70 days after transplanting. Harvest when the fruits are fully colored and have a slightly soft feel. Gently twist or cut the tomatoes from the vine. With good farming practices, the yield per acre could range between five to ten tonnes. Njeru sells the tomatoes at a price range of Sh200 to Sh250 per 300 grams.