The Tomato Plant
The tomato is a vegetable crop that is commonly grown by farmers in Nigeria especially in the Northern part of the country. This is due to the high level of sunshine over there in the Northern part of Nigeria. However, the farmers from the South are taking the initiative and cultivating the tomato through the process of greenhouse farming.
The greenhouse is a building with a roof and sides usually made of glass, used for growing plants that need warmth and protection.
Lycopersicon esculentum, commonly known as tomato, can be eaten raw when ripe. However, here in Nigeria, tomato is usually used for the preparation of stew. White rice and stew, jollof rice is some of the delicacy in which we make use of the tomato.
Tomato usually requires a temperature of 20 degree centigrade to 25 degree centigrade, rainfall of about 50 cm to 125 cm, a high level of sunshine and a well-drained loamy soil, rich in organic matter. It is usually planted in early September and October. Tomato is propagated sexually.
This means that seeds are the form in which we grow new tomato plants. The seeds are drilled into a hole or spread through the broadcasting method, with a seed rate of 5 kg-10 kg of seeds per hectare.
However, due to its fragility at an early stage, tomato seeds are first grown in the nursery before transplanted to the main field. You, as a tomato farmer, must first ensure that the beds or seed boxes or seed trays are available with a well-drained loamy soil, rich in organic matter and thoroughly watered.
The farmer sow the seed into the soil in drills, say 5 cm apart and 25cm deep. Shading, mulching, weeding and watering are practices that a farmer must imbibe to ensure the tomato grows well. The tomato seed stays in the nursery for three weeks after which the farmer transplants.
What stage of the tomato seedlings’ growth do transplanting to land site occur?
At a stage in the nursery where the seedlings are with four to five leaves, should be about 16 cm to 22 cm tall. They are each transplanted with the ball-of-the earth method. This is the method of transplanting in which soil, the size of a ball, surrounds the root. The ball-of-earth method ensures that the root is very protected, especially at the fragile stage.
The farmer must have made available the land. The land should have been cleared, ploughed, harrowed and ridged. In addition, it must have been fenced. This fencing stage is important to guard against entry into one’s farm by herds of grazing animals unguarded or guided by the herdsmen.
Holes measuring say 6 cm deep are dug and the tomato seedlings are then transplanted from the nursery to the field, either in the morning or in the evening. While on its permanent site o land where the tomato will complete its growth, the farmer must ensure that the plant is free from weed. Weeding is very important at the early stage where the seedling is not that strong. In addition, the seedlings should be watered every morning and evening until the plants are strong enough.
As a grower of tomatoes, you have an option of applying organic fertilizers or inorganic fertilizers. You can apply inorganic N:P:K fertilizers in the ratio of 15:15:15 to each plant three weeks after transplanting at 250 kg per hectare. Organic manure like compost or farmyard manure at around 40 metric tonnes per hectare can be applied as well.
The tomato is a vine plant.
This means that the tomato leaves tend to grow along the ground, just like other vegetables. This is where staking is employed. It involves getting stakes into the ground around the tomato plants. It is very important that staking be done before flowering occurs. The stems of the tomato are then tied or guarded to grow on the stakes upward. Staking is very important as it allows for production of good and healthy tomato fruits and also keeps the fruits from attacks from diseases due to contact with the soil.
Just like in any other plants, tomato is susceptible to diseases. This is expected when a resistant variety was not planted. There is the fusarium wilt also known as the root rot. It is a fungal disease caused by the fungus, fusarium oxysporium, which is spread by wind. The symptoms of fusarium wilt include gradual dropping of leaves, followed by wilting and drying up of leaves of the whole plant. The control would include:
Treat soil with copper fungicide and practice crop rotation
Root Knot Disease: It is caused by a class of organism known as the nematode. Roots develop galls or knots with yellow, curled leaves and dwarf plants. Control would include treating soil with nematicides, planting resistant varieties, and practice of crop rotation.
Bacterial wilt is caused by bacterium called pseudomonas solaraceurium .
It is transmitted through the soil and it attacks the roots. Symptoms include wilting of the leaf, death of the affected plant, and slimy exudation from the stem. Control would include crop rotation and avoiding infected soil through staking.
Leaf spot disease is caused by a fungus called chadosporium spp. The spores are deposited on leaves through air.
Symptoms include circular white patches that appear on the leaves. Dead spots also appear on the leaves.
Control include the use of fungicides, practicing crop rotation and the use of resistant varieties
Which of the tomatoes are more fresher and tastier when harvested ?
With all these good and required cultural practices in place, the tomato grows to maturity two to four months after planting on land site. The farmer harvests these ripe tomato fruits by handpicking them and storing them in a dry or cool place. Tomato can either be used or consumed after harvesting or it can be processed into tomato juice or paste and stored in a canned paste.
Indeed, the tomato is one crop plant that is very much in demand at all times in Nigeria