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Tomato Seedlings

Important Aspects of Growing Tomato from Seedlings in South Africa

The scientific name for the tomato is Lycopersicon esculentum Mill and originated in South America. First commercially cultivated in Central America, the plant was later introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers who also took it to Morocco. It is one of the most widely cultivated crops in the world today and in South Africa, it is, apart from potatoes, one of the most prominent vegetable commodities. Tomato propagation makes up almost a quarter of vegetable crop production in the country. Farmers propagate the vegetable across the country with the largest concentration in the Mpumalanga Lowveld, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, and the southern regions of the Western and Eastern Cape. Due to the vegetable being frost-sensitive, it is now widely cultivated in greenhouses. The plant has hairy trail stems, with the plant bearing clusters of yellow flowers. The vegetable ranges in size and shape according to cultivar and it is propagated for its fruits. Though the fruits are actually berries, most people refer to tomatoes as vegetables.

Climate Needs

It is a warm-season plant, requiring average daily temperatures between 19 and 25 °C. Fruit setting is limited when temperatures drop to 11 °C and below. The same is true when the plant experiences heat stress. Wind protection is often needed, as flowers drop off in strong winds. If the plant is exposed to prolonged rainy weather, it may suffer from foliar diseases. It is thus best to transplant tomato seedlings in well-drained loam soil in a dry area where the plants can be irrigated. It is essential to prepare the soil to be nutrient-rich before transplanting the tomato seedlings. The ideal soil pH range is 6-7.

Nutrient Requirements

With the seedlings requiring many nutrients, it is important to include the right ratio of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, together with organics. The crop requires a relatively high level of nitrogen for optimal flowering and fruit set. In addition, tomatoes require a high level of potassium for colour, firmness, cell strengthening, and taste. Phosphorus is required for optimal rooting and improved growth. Various micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and molybdenum may also be required. Where the soil lacks boron, the plant normally produces deformed fruits. If the soil is highly alkaline, it is recommended to add iron.

Irrigation Requirements

It is important to follow the correct irrigation protocol after transplanting, as the plants require immediate watering. Irrigation must not be excessive after a dry spell; instead, the farmer should first irrigate lightly before irrigating more extensively to avoid the fruits from cracking. If the plants are irrigated late in the growth season, the fruits become watery.

It is imperative to start tomato crop growing with disease-free plants. To this end, pest and disease-free tomato seedlings can be ordered from Hishtil South Africa.

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