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Grow Your Own: How to grow tomatoes at home

If you take time to select the right seed, and prepare the soil with organic matter in advance to you on your way to a successful crop.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables to grow in a home garden as they are a staple in almost every meal . If you're interested in growing your own tomatoes, here are a few steps to consider when gardening in Zambia.

When to plant

In Zambia, tomatoes can be grown all through the year, however, the best time to plant tomatoes is during the warm season, which typically starts in October and lasts until March. Tomatoes need warm soil and air temperatures to germinate and grow, and they do not tolerate frost or cold temperatures.

Choosing Your Tomatoes

When it comes to choosing your tomato plants, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, there are two main types of tomatoes: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are smaller, bushier plants that produce fruit all at once, while indeterminate tomatoes are larger, vine-like plants that produce fruit continuously throughout the season.

Determinate tomatoes are a good choice if you want a lot of tomatoes all at once, while indeterminate tomatoes are a good choice if you want a steady supply of tomatoes over a longer period which is more suitable for a home garden.

You should also decide whether you want to grow hybrid or organic tomatoes. Hybrid tomatoes are bred for specific characteristics, such as disease resistance or higher yield, while organic tomatoes are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Ultimately, the choice between hybrid and organic tomatoes comes down to personal preference.

Seed-Co Zambia, Hygrotech Zambia, Stark Ayres, Holland Greentech and Amiran are companies that supply Zambian agricultural market with hybrid seed.

You can also find companies that supply ready-to-plant seedlings. Most of these will advertise online or in Facebook There is a small vegetable seedling nursery just outside of Hygrotech seeds in the showgrounds that sells vegetable seedlings.

Where to Grow Your Tomatoes

Tomatoes can be grown in a variety of containers and garden beds. If you have limited space or want to grow tomatoes on a balcony or patio, you can use a container that is at least 10 litres in size. They are thirsty plants and develop very extensive root systems to support themselves. If you have more space, you can grow tomatoes in a raised garden bed or a normal garden bed. Regardless of where you choose to grow your tomatoes, make sure they receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.

Type of Soil Needed

Tomatoes thrive in well-draining soil that is rich in nutrients. You can improve the soil in your container or garden bed by adding compost or aged manure. If you're growing tomatoes in a container, make sure the soil is a good quality potting mix that has been specifically formulated for container gardening.

Starting Seedlings

Tomato seeds can be started indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your area. To start your seedlings, plant the seeds in seed-starting mix and keep them in a warm, bright location until they germinate. Once your seedlings have grown to about 12 cm tall, you can transplant them into their final container or garden bed.

Fertilizing, Support, and Pruning

Tomatoes need regular fertilizing throughout the growing season. You can use a balanced fertilizer or compost tea every 3-4 weeks to keep your plants healthy and productive. You will also need to provide support for your tomato plants as they grow. This can be done with cages, stakes, or trellises.

Finally, pruning your tomato plants can help them stay healthy and produce more fruit. To prune your plants, remove the suckers that grow in the "armpits" of the branches. This will help direct more energy to the main stem and fruit-bearing branches.

Pest Management

Some common pests that affect tomatoes include aphids, whiteflies and spider mites. To manage these pests, you can use natural methods such as companion planting, which involves planting certain herbs and flowers that naturally repel pests. Marigold is a popular companion plant and works by drawing insect to it, away from the tomatoes. Allow beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings, which feed on pests like aphids.

Field of marigold plants
Field of marigold plants

You will find that in the rainy season many diseases will thrive. Keep the lower leave pruned to prevent splash back onto the plant, as these water droplets will introduce pathogens to the tomato plant which can develop into an infestation.

Additionally, there are natural pest control products such as neem oil, which is a natural pesticide made from the seeds of the neem tree. In terms of diseases, some common ones that affect tomatoes include blight, blossom-end rot, and powdery mildew.

To prevent and manage these diseases, it's important to keep your plants healthy with regular fertilizing, adequate water, and proper pruning. Crop rotation and choosing (hybrid) disease-resistant varieties can also help prevent disease.

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