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Vegetable Seedlings

Tips for Prospective Farmers – Commercial Vegetable Crop Growing from Seedlings

Large-scale crop growing from vegetable seedlings holds several benefits for the commercial farmer, including:
  • Earliness to market.
  • Uniformity of plant characteristics.
  • Lower cost of irrigation, as the plants are on the field for a shorter period.
  • Pre-treatment of seedlings before delivery to the farm means one fewer chemical treatment is required.
  • Vegetable seedlings from reputable nurseries are grown in greenhouse facilities, ensuring that the farmer receives pest-free plants.

Before commercially growing vegetables, it is essential to conduct the necessary research to understand whether the particular vegetable cultivar can be grown in the specific …:

  • soil type;
  • climatic region of South Africa;
  • season;
  • rainfall period;
  • temperature range;
  • wind conditions; and
  • humidity levels.

It is imperative to understand the risks involved in growing the particular crops from seeds or seedlings. The farmer should calculate whether a reasonable profit can be generated from the crop on the available space. The larger the piece of land and the more plants on it, the better the infrastructure must be to ensure harvesting and packaging can be done to ensure delivery of the vegetables to the market on time. Most vegetable seedlings perform well when transplanted to sandy- or clay-loam soils. Pure sand leads to quick water (and nutrient) drainage, which cause plant stress and lower yields. Too much retained water can cause root-rot problems.

In addition to consideration of the soil type, the farmer should regularly monitor the soil’s nutrient levels to ensure the necessary adjustments can be made to provide the plants with the right nutrients and to maintain the right pH levels in the soil. The soil analysis is also important to identify the fertiliser requirements, as over-fertilising affects profits negatively. Likewise, water quality affects the quality of the crop. The farmer must make sure sufficient good-quality borehole or river water is available to irrigate the vegetables from the seed or seedling stage right through to the harvesting time. If the borehole does not provide sufficient water for the particular crop, the farmer should have access to other water if the plants are grown outside the main rainfall season.

One mistake frequently made by farmers new to commercial vegetable growing is that they commence crop propagation without the appropriate infrastructure. With eggplant seedlings, for instance, the farmer must ensure that the trellises are in place, ridges already made, and irrigation ready even before the seedlings are delivered on the farm. Where a large piece of land is cultivated, the farmer requires ploughing equipment. It is imperative to have a packaging facility on the farm to pack the vegetables before transporting them to the market. With vegetable farming being a capital-intensive operation, it is essential to have sufficient capital available for fertiliser, water, packaging, soil analysis, seedlings or seeds, plastic cover where required, transport, and more.

Sufficient spacing is equally important. To this end, the farmer should follow the recommendations of the seedling producer or the Department of Agriculture for best spacing for the specific crop type.

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