The first of our three business lines is farming, and this is where we’ve focused our attention so far as we’ve commenced operations in Nasarawa State. #TeamTomatoJos believes in making the best inputs available for our smallholder farmers – as we say in our kickstarter video, we help farmers source the inputs that make great tasting tomatoes! And one of the most important inputs is the tomato seed itself.
Over the past few weeks, we have been busy building the greenhouse that now serves as our seedling nursery. The greenhouse is critical; it allows us to grow seedlings in a controlled environment and provide the farmers in our network with strong tomato plants that can be transplanted directly to their fields.
Technically, our “greenhouse” is actually a “nethouse” because it is made of mesh and plastic rather than glass. But it still provides the right environment to grow seedlings and prepare them for the open field! The first step in the process is to seed the trays. We start with potting mix: a blend of coco-peat and perlite. After adding enough water to the potting mix to make it moist but not soggy, we fill the trays, leaving a couple of centimetres at the top of each seed cell. Now we’re ready to start seeding!
In our first growing season, we are using tomato seeds from a few different seed companies in order to determine which types grow best in Nasarawa. We started on Saturday evening with a variety produced by Syngenta, and our first two trays have already germinated!
Over the next few weeks we will continue to nurture our seedlings until they are ready for transplanting. We will be on the lookout for seedlings that are particularly “leggy,” with limp, elongated stems and sparse foliage. Seedlings become leggy when there is insufficient light or too much heat – the plant “searches” for additional light, growing tall and lanky rather than short but strong. Early stage seedlings can also suffer when the first leaves formed from the seed (the cotyledons) are unable to shed the seed coating. The easiest way to deal with this problem is to mist water onto the seedlings with a spray bottle.
Appropriate water application is crucial for seedlings – actually, as we discussed previously, water is crucial at all stages of tomato growth! But for seedlings, as for Goldilocks, too much or too little can be a bad thing. Too much water creates soggy soil and causes the seed to rot. Too little water starves the plant until it withers and dies. Ideally, the plants should be watered thoroughly and then left un-watered until they are almost ready to wilt.
Over the next few months, #TeamTomatoJos will grow thousands of seedlings in our nursery. The greenhouse provides farmers with the most basic, but also the most crucial input: the tomato plant.