Considering the current situation of tomatoes in Nigeria, more people need to cultivate the plant so it doesn’t go into extinction.
Over the past few months, tomatoes have been in hot demand. The usual quantity that normally cost N200 now goes for N1,000 and above.
Just like leaves and other garden crops, tomatoes too can be grown in any house garden. It is quite easy to grow and can produce bumper fruits if the vine is well taken care of. The numerous uses of tomatoes cannot be over-emphasized, however, it has a short shelf-life and is susceptible to a range of pests and diseases. The later is one of the reasons why tomatoes are currently scarce in Nigeria.
This article explains in detail, how you can have your own tomato farm at the back of your house (or front if you choose). The methods highlighted has been used countless times and proven to be effective in growing the plant. Although there are different kinds of tomatoes, most of them are cultivated almost the same way, even though they have different gestation periods.
How to Grow Tomatoes
1. Nurture Seeds
For starters, it is best to plant your tomatoes indoors for about 6 to 8 weeks. You can put them in small containers (pictured below). The seeds should be planted about 1/8 of an inch into the soil. Most tomato plants require a 15-gallon (60-litre), 18-inch (46-centimetre) pot in order to have adequate room to develop.
Once the seedlings emerge, you need to expose the plant to sunlight for it to remain sturdy. On the other hand, you can buy a potting mix from a gardener or from any roadside horticulturist.
2. Transplant Tomato Shoot
Tomato plants are easier to grow by transplant than by seed. Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. For northern regions, it is very important that your site receives at least 6 hours of sun. In southern regions, light afternoon shade will help tomatoes survive and thrive.
Two weeks before transplanting seedlings outdoors, till the soil to about 1 foot and mix in manure or fertilizer, just enough to give it a base of support. Fertilize again two weeks after planting.
Plant seedlings two feet apart. Pinch off a few of the lower branches on transplants, and plant the root ball deep enough so that the remaining lowest leaves are just above the surface of the soil. Establish stakes or cages in the soil at the time of planting. Staking keeps developing fruit off the ground while caging allows the plant to stay upright.
3. Water Plant
Secure the stem of the tomato plant with enough soil. Water generously for the first few days but don’t drown the plant. Continuously water the crop to reduce shock to the roots.
4. Protect Plant
To help tomatoes through periods of drought, find some flat rocks and place one next to each plant. You can also mulch the plant to prevent moisture loss. Mulching is the use of protective covering, usually of organic matter such as leaves or straws around plants to prevent the evaporation of moisture and the freezing of roots. You can also use newspapers as pictured below.
Mulching Tomatoes are susceptible to insect and pests, especially tomato hornworms, whiteflies, and blight, so stay alert on pest invasion. Blight is a fungal disease that can strike during any part of the growing season. It causes the leaves and fruits to turn grey-brown and grow mouldy spots. The disease is aided by persistent damp weather and can spread and destroy all the plants if ignored.
Leave your tomatoes on the vine as long as possible, however, it takes about 70 – 80 days for the plant to mature. If any falls off before they ripen, place them in a paper bag with the stem up and store them in a cool, dark place. As it approaches maturity, the tomato fruit slowly turns red, leaving little traces of green. Once they are all red, you can plug them one by one or carefully cut off the branches.
Never place tomatoes under the sun to ripen; they may rot before they get ripe. Also, do not refrigerate fresh tomatoes as it will spoil the flavour and texture that make up that garden tomato taste. If you must refrigerate, put them in freezer bags or containers and seal it off. However, after frozen, the skins will slip off when they defrost.
Tomatoes freshly harvested
I hope you find these tips helpful. All the best in grooming your new tomato farm!