Tomato Farming in Kenya; A beginner’s perspective.
Backyard tomatoes, how I started off.
The first time I planted tomatoes, I was doing it as a backyard little kitchen garden project. I always found myself in a debate about whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable. Until I decided to find out by myself on the ground.
- I cut up a fresh tomato.
- Removed the seeds and separated them from the tomato flesh using a sieve.
- I soaked the seeds in water for twenty-four hours.
- While the seeds were soaking I prepared my seedbed out in the backyard. I just made a raised bed and sprinkled some manure over it with some water.
- I let the bed sit like that and kept adding water to it until the next day when I was sure that my seeds were well soaked up and ready to be planted.
- I planted the seeds the next day in little rows on the seedbed that I had prepared earlier.
- Two weeks later I saw little sprouts in the bed that I consistently watered throughout the two-week period. I was so happy!
- I decided to create some sort of shed to protect the seeds from direct sunlight.
- Two weeks after that, the seedlings were ready to be transplanted.
- I came up with custom planting cups that I made using cardboard. In each, I used a little bit of farm manure and planted three seeds in each because I did not have enough cardboard.
- Although the tomatoes took time to grow, the project was finally a success three months later after I harvested my first tomatoes.
- I replaced them in the kitchen where I took the original tomato.
What did I learn from my little experience?
- Tomatoes can be grown from kitchen tomato seeds, however, they will not be as productive as store-bought seeds.
- Tomatoes are best grown in controlled environments, like greenhouses… to reduce the risk of infection by pests and diseases.
- When about to plan tomatoes, one must adequately prepare some capital to purchase pesticides and herbicides. This is because the tomato is a very delicate crop and is prone to many pests and diseases.
- Tomatoes take a while to grow to the point of maturity.
- Pruning needs to be done to the tomato plants to provide room for the tomato to be better productive.
- The tomato plant structure is vine-like, and there must be practices in place to provide extra support to the plant once it starts to produce tomatoes.
- There are different ways of planting tomatoes.
- The whole process of learning through experience gave me enough motivation to actually invest my time in learning about commercial tomato farming in Kenya. Here is what I found from a few resources that I put together;
The simple process of growing tomatoes.
It starts in the Seedbed
Tomatoes are always started from the seedbed. You cannot grow tomatoes by broadcasting seeds because the seedlings will not be able to survive or gain enough traction even as they germinate.
How to do it right?
For those professional farmers out there, using a seedbed is a bit outdated. Professional farmers today use seedling trays which are 100 shs each in any agro vet.
Using cocoa peat as a planting medium is a great way to guarantee the highest germination rate. Coco peat is great also because it is quite porous and roots are able to penetrate through it quite easily.
Other than using planting trays, using soil seedbeds are also a great way of growing seedlings. The common way of creating soil seedbeds is by raising soil up to a certain level (about 10 centimeters) and leaving a few lines to act as pathways for the farmer.
The raised soil should be properly fine-tuned to handle the delicate nature of the seeds to make it easier to sow the seeds into the soil and for the seeds to equally germinate with ease.
The type of seed variety that you choose will fully depend on your location, recommendation, or one of your liking. Like I did with my own experience, the best practice would be to soak the seeds for a while before planting them.
When planting, gently create straight lines or holes using your finger. Not too deep, so as to allow for the easier germination of the seed.
Space the rows at least 10-15 centimeters from each row and each seed about the distance of the length of your thumb.
Counting days will come to about ten days before the seeds germinate. The first time you will see sprouts, I promise, you will be very excited. Consistently water your sprouts depending on their location and the best schedule for your work schedule. Nevertheless, the best time to water the seedling or sprouts would be early in the morning or late in the evening.
Be careful however not to drown the seedlings. Too much water at a point could lead to suffocation and drowning of the seedlings.
Keeping the schedule consistently for a month will lead to healthy seedlings that are ready for transplanting!
Another way that is being adopted by new and upcoming farmers today is purchasing seedlings from reputable companies that have nurseries that produce different tomato varieties. One great example is Mkulima Mdogo Seedlings. So, you can basically buy tomato seedlings that are already ready for transplanting.
Then seedlings are Transplanted to the Field.
The next step to simple tomato farming is transplanting. Before transplanting, the field is supposed to be ready for the seedlings. Free from weeds and be properly tilled.
When transplanting from soil to field, the seedlings will undergo a change of environment. Some may not survive the change. That is why it is advisable to pick only the seedlings that look healthy enough to survive the shock of transplanting. Healthy seedlings are at least a foot long and have a diameter of about five millimeters.
Take care not to transplant seedlings that may be having any signs of pests and diseases.
The seedlings must be placed at least a distance of 0.6 meters from each other. I like using organic manure, so this is what I would recommend for planting.
Each and every hole must be dug to a depth of about six to eight inches and carefully mixed with organic manure before inserting the seedling.
Dried cow manure is best for this practice.
After completing the exercise according to the size of your farm or the number of seedlings that you have, you can seal the deal and apply diammonium phosphate(DAP) which is an inorganic fertilizer.
Like I said before, tomatoes are very delicate plants. Small things with the tomato can lead to huge losses. One such small thing is to make sure the soil is clean and free from pests and diseases. It’s funny, but it is actually necessary.
Am sure you are asking, how can soil that is mixed with cow manure be clean?
There are some pests and diseases that cause the early wilting of seedlings. These can be found in the soil that we will be transplanting seedlings to. So, it is best to find a good chemical and spray right after transplanting just to be sure that the soil is free from these disease-borne pests.
General management afterward.
Thereafter, the seedlings will progress productively after fertilizers are applied and a keen eye is kept on pests and diseases. If need be, pruning is done to remove leaves or parts of plants that may already be infected by pests or diseases.
And in any case of pests and diseases like blight or mildew during cold times, the farmer is supposed to take immediate action by spraying with the most appropriate chemicals from their nearest agro vet.
This is the next process which involves setting up some form of support for the tomato plant or vine to grow off of. A farmer is required to invest in the best structures in order to guarantee good results and a healthy growing crop. Different farmers may use different structures, but the most common are poles and string.
You may have seen this as you walk around.
While staking the tomato plants, handle the stems with care as you may start seeing some fruit clusters. And it would be best not to disrupt their growth.
Keep weeding the area where you have planted the tomatoes to prevent any foreign plants from competing with your tomato crop for nutrients in the soil.
Lastly, harvest your tomatoes.
This is the most anticipated part of the planting season. Harvesting is essentially done about two and a half months from the time they are transplanted. This will fully depend on your farm practices and management detail.
Tree tomato farming in Kenya.
The tree tomato or the tamarillo should not be confused with the ordinary tomato. The tree tomato is grown in many parts of the world. Specifically in my country, it is grown in the highland areas that receive a decent amount of rainfall throughout the year. But I will talk about the tree tomato in another article.
In the future, I will update this article to cover each one of the following topics;
Commercial tomato farming.
Open Field tomato farming.
Greenhouse tomato farming.
Common pests and diseases that affect tomatoes.