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Thursday, 1 October 2015

Nursery management key to achieving tomato seedling uniformity

By Bob Aston
Tomato Value Chain Workshop: Enhancing farmer’s production skills on tomato, taking place at Sipili Catholic Church Hall, Laikipia West Sub County got underway on September 30, 2015 with more than 60 farmers sharing ideas and experiences on tomato value chain production and marketing.
The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre has organized the workshop in collaboration with Kilimo Biashara Promoters, Syngenta Kenya and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MOALF).
While training farmers on nursery production, James Kibuu from Syngenta Kenya urged farmers to construct raised seedbeds of maximum one metre width in a place where no potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, or peppers have grown before for a period of 3 years.
Participants following one of the sessions

He said that farmers should incorporate about 5 kg of good compost per square metre into the seedbeds, which are finely cultivated on top.
“When preparing the nursery, drill shallow seedling furrows with a pointed stick. Then sow seeds in the furrows and cover them lightly with soil. After this, pat firmly with the flat side of a rake or similar tool, mulch and water liberally,” said Mr. Kabuu.
After one week of emergence, the seedlings should be drenched with Actara. Then thin out weak seedlings and leave about 3-5 cm along the rows.
 “Farmers should avoid excessive nitrogen as it causes softer leaves, leads to excessive vegetative growth; it is associated with fruit puffiness and blossom-end rot. Excessive nitrogen also makes the plant attractive to pests and diseases,” said Mr. Kibuu.
He warned farmers never to use fresh manure on a seedbed, as it will burn young seedlings. Tomatoes respond very well to liberal amounts of well-rotted compost or manure. An acre farm requires 10,000 seeds.
He said that the young seedlings require sufficient water to sustain good, healthy growth. Irrigate in the morning or early afternoon.
A week before transplanting, reduce watering to harden the seedlings. Three- to four-week-old seedlings (15 to 25 cm high with 3 to 5 true leaves) are ready for transplanting. 
To avoid excessive damage to the roots, it is important to water the seedlings 12 to 14 hours before lifting them from the seedbed.
Mr. Kibuu showing farmers how to prepare seedbeds
He noted that it is ideal to transplant in the afternoon or on a still, cloudy day to reduce the transplanting shock. As little as a cup of water per plant immediately at planting will greatly speed up plant establishment.
Spacing between plants and distance between rows depends on variety, growth habit and plants staked or left to grow on the ground. Common configurations are plants spaced 30 to 60 cm to 60 by 60cm apart in single or double rows on 1.0 to 1.4 m wide beds.
Pruning of tomato plants is necessary for indeterminate varieties. After one or two main steps, the side branches (laterals) will have grown on a weekly basis after formation of 6 to 8 flower clusters.
Manual weeding in rows and mulching the beds is essential in suppressing weeds. Pinching the growing top off after formation of 6 to 8 flower clusters encourages the growth of good size marketable fruit.
Reducing mulch between the rows allows sunlight to get through to the young seedlings. Removing leaves close to the group is essential in preventing entry of blight infection. Smokers should wash their hands carefully with soap before handling tomato plants as they may otherwise transmit tobacco mosaic virus disease.
The farmers seek to address various interventions in Tomato Value Chain that include crop risk mitigation, post-harvest handling, local value addition, linkages to markets, aggregation, and value chain linkages.
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