Growing Tomatoes for Profit: Basic Requirements for Open Field Crop Success
Commercial outdoor field propagation of tomatoes from tomato seedlings can be profitable, provided the farmer applies best practices related to vegetable crop propagation. This article deals with the basics to increase the potential for field crop success. That said, newcomers to farming with the vegetable should seek expert guidance from experienced agronomists regarding plant varieties suitable for their particular climate region. This also pertains to soil conditions, and they must make sure they have sufficient water supply to irrigate the crop at the right intervals.
Soil Preparation Should Start Long Before the Delivery of the Tomato Seedlings
While the farmer waits for the delivery of the tomato seedlings, they should prepare the soil. All weeds must be removed, the soil must be tilled to the correct level, and nutrients must be applied. Field preparation should start around a month to two months before the arrival of the plugs. All remains from the previous crop cultivation on the particular piece of land must be removed.
Farmers usually plough the soil to a depth of 60 cm, as recommended in the seedling planting guide available here.
Many farmers put black plastic sheets on the growth area to help warm up the soil and to minimise the growth of weeds during the period. They also prepare their drip irrigation lines and equipment, as the soil must be well irrigated before transplanting the tomato seedlings, and the plugs require irrigation directly after.
Small holes are made in the sheets just before the plugs are delivered. The plants are placed in these prepared areas whilst care is taken to ensure the plastic does not touch the plant stems. This is to prevent the stems burning when the plastic is warmed up by the sun.
Importance of Staking Practices
In some instances, farmers need to thin out the fruits during the early growth stages. This ensures that the plants put more resources into the fruits that are left, creating better quality fruits. Staking may be needed to provide sufficient support to the plants, depending on the varieties grown.
Time on the Field
In most instances, harvesting can take place from seven weeks after the plugs have been transplanted, depending on the particular variety and environmental conditions, as well as the age of the plugs at the time of transplant.
Although farmers can grow the crop from seedlings in just about any type of soil, it is important to prevent water build-up around the roots. Therefore, the soil should allow for good drainage. Likewise, too sandy soil can mean having to irrigate more as the soil does not have good water-retention capacity. With the plant being drought-sensitive as well, it is essential to check that the soil conditions are right for crop farming with tomatoes.
Harvesting of the Fruits
Hand harvesting is done using hand scissors or harvesting knives. In most instances, several harvesting sessions follow with as many as three sessions in a seven-day period. Processing tomatoes are harvested through mechanical means and only one harvesting session takes place. Once the crop has been harvested completely, it is destroyed and removed from the field.
This is one plant where crop rotation is a must for ongoing farming on the particular piece of land. Crop rotation is normally done by planting cabbage or legumes, although corn and other crops can also be planted. The practice is essential to get rid of pathogens and to return other nutrients to the soil.
Optimal Temperature Range
One of the main issues of growing tomato plants outdoors in the open field is the fact the plants require specific temperature ranges. The optimal growth temperature range is from 18°C to 26°C. It is essential to keep the soil temperature at 14°C or above, as too low temperature hinders growth. Shock from too cold temperature can lead to large-scale crop losses. This being said, many varieties are now available, with grafted seedlings also offering better tolerance to nematodes, helping farmers to use their available land to the maximum.