Oh boy, what a week it has been! Over the last week #TeamTomatoJos has been immensely busy with final preparation for our little tomato plants and we are now excited to share that we started transplanting today!
After weeks of prep work borehole drilling commenced this week and after a day of digging we hit water a little over 80 meters deep. In order to haul water from this depth we are using 1.5 horsepower submersible pump that draws water through a 1-inch diameter enabling us to fill our 40,000 litre water reservoir over the course of a few hours.
Drip tape laying
A major accomplishment this week was laying over 4.3 miles/7km of drip tape in a single morning. We were able to complete this task so quickly as we had prepared our fields in advance to receive the drip tape. Our tomato beds are 5-feet/1.5 meters wide and we used a ridger with discs set that distance to chop the soil-up and as the discs turns to throw that soil into the center of the line to create the beds.
In the middle of the ridger we welded a “ripper” shank that allowed us to create a 1 foot/30 cm deep channel right in the middle of the bed. In this channel we added fertilizer and lime (helps balance the P.h of the soil). We then laid the drip tape in the channel using an ingenious and proprietary solution – the three plastic chair spool feeder (patent pending!) Using this crude yet effective method we were able to triple our productivity and install three rows of drip tape at a time.
24 hours before the fields received the baby tomato plants we “flooded” the tomato beds with water. We do this in order to create as stress-free conditions for the plant as possible. A flooded bed ensures the roots have immediate access to water and that they begin building a healthy root system. A further benefit of flooding the bed is that the technique serves to breakdown clumps of soil that may inhibit the spread of the root system.
After an initial 24 hour flooding the period the irrigation schedule is amended to provide water to the plant on a much more limited basis. Doing so allows the plant to develop a strong root network as the roots begin the search for the water source.
The use of mechanical transplanting is not yet available in Nigeria so we are limited to use manual tools to actually transplant the tomato plant from the nursery tray to the field. We created a protocol for transplanting and the essence of that protocol is as follows:
1. Dig a hole that ensures the baby tomato plant (or the “plug”) will be slightly below the soil surface when planted
2. Remove the plug form the nursery tray and place the plug into the freshly dug hole
3. Fill soil in around the plug, and gently firm it up around the roots
4. As soon as possible after planting pour approximately 1 liter of water all around the plant to force the air out from around the roots,
5. Measure the predefined distance and repeat 1-4 above
The process seems simple but in reality the consistent execution of this protocol is really difficult to do when you have over 5,000 plants on every acre. As we move forward we will look for ways to bring further productivity gains to the transplanting process and that can be readily scaled and utilized.
Over the next month #TeamTomatoJos will continue to transplant on the nucleus farm and introduce the transplanting protocol to our smallholder farmers. We are also lining up a demo day in the next couple of weeks where we will invite potential Tomato Jos smallholder farmers in our catchment area to see our techniques and determine their interest in working with us in the next growing season. Stay tuned for more on this exciting development over the coming weeks!