Growing tomatoes

Do your homework carefully to profit from this ever-popular crop.

At first glance, it may seem difficult to make a profit from tomatoes. Their production costs can be high and their prices vary a great deal.

Yet if you can get a good yield and keep cost down, you should, on average, be able to make money out of them. For example, the market price of tomatoes may stay very low for two years. Then, as you’re about to give up, it may rise so high that you more than make up for the poor seasons.

In addition, tomatoes can be attacked by several pests and diseases. Worse, the problems you have this year may not be the same as those you faced last season!

For these reasons, it’s best to start growing tomatoes on a small scale. Then as you become more confident about your farming skills and your ability to weather a low market price, you can gradually increase your planted area.

You can choose between short- growing tomato plants – described as “determinant” in seed catalogues – or tall growers – known as “indeterminant”.

The short growers reach a certain height and then stop growing upwards. The tall growers simply carry on growing and need to be staked and pruned.

Staking
In moist areas, tie the tomato plants to stakes to keep the fruit and leaves off the ground, or they will become diseased.

In the dry winter season in subtropical areas, short growers can be planted without staking. This is because the soil remains dry on the surface and very little fruit and leaf growth is damaged by rotting.

Many of the processor (or “jam” tomato) lines and short-growing saladette varieties (standard-size tomatoes used in salads) are well suited to this method of growing.

Pruning
It’s better to prune tall growers to just one or two shoots. Fewer leaves mean that the plants will be more “open”. This reduces disease and allows you to get better spray penetration, especially if you have only a knapsack sprayer. In addition, the fruit is exposed to the sun from the beginning and adapts to it.

If you do not prune, the fruit left on the plant after picking will be suddenly exposed to the sun due to the re-arrangement of the leaves. This will cause sunburn in midsummer. To prune, remove all the side shoots, leaving only the main shoot to develop. The yield won’t be affected. Instead the trusses – or clusters of fruit on the stem – will grow larger and the fruit will be slightly larger.

Never prune short growers, as the main stem ends in a truss of fruit at a certain height and your yield will be affected.

Research
Before growing tomatoes for the first time, do market research in your community to see what types of tomato are popular among farmers and sell well. The type and size of tomato varies greatly from area to area; if you choose wrongly, you’ll get a lower price.