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Growing tomatoes with no soil, no weeds, less water

Soil less tomato growing innovation. It leads to 30 pc more yield and there’s no need to use pesticides.

Tired of soil borne diseases that have been ruining their tomato yields, some farmers are adopting the soil-less farming technology. By use of coco peat (a natural fibre made out of coconut husks), tomato farmers have significantly increased their yields.

Though the initial investment for the system set-up is high, the farmers we interviewed confirmed that they are reaping unbelievable profits from this innovation.

With declining soil fertility due to climate change and intensive farming, soil less farming may provide a more sustainable and productive alternative to soil based farming.

One progressive farmer in Likuyani who has adopted the innovation speaks highly of it.

“Growing tomatoes in soil has been a nightmare,” Salim Bwana says.

“The tomatoes would reach a certain stage and start wilting. Even with the chemical recommendations from the extension officer the problem still persisted,” he says. Mr Bwana borrowed this technology from Rwanda.

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Soil less farming is indeed the farming of the future. Just like the green revolution of the 70s, the next huge leap forward in food production lies in soil less farming.

The many advantages

With this innovation one can increase crop productivity by more than 30 per cent.

The innovation makes use of coco peats as a planting media which can be used for up to three years before replacing.

Though the innovation requires addition costs compared to conventional methods, the results are incredible and worth paying. You can actually do more with less inputs on a bigger scale and with great efficiency.

Unlike the conventional method where seeds are planted in soil in a raised nursery bed, in this system the seeds are placed in planting trays filled with coir.

This is because the coco peat drains well with less watering. Using drip irrigation, the trays are supplied with nutrients which are mixed in the irrigation water. This ensures the plantlets that emerge are strong and disease free.

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How to prepare for planting

Preparation of the planting media for transplanting involves soaking of the coco peats in water to turn it into soil like mixture. The content is then filled into the poly bags where the seedlings are transplanted. Coco peat is preferred as a planting media because it is renewable and biodegradable.

After planting a drip irrigation system is installed to provide fertilisers in soluble form in a controlled manner.

Compared to conventional tomato farming, soil-less farming brings down the susceptibility of the crop to soil-borne plant diseases, reduces the use of chemicals, and enables farmers to raise up to three crops a year. Though the cost for setting up the system is high, one is assured of higher yields and superior crop quality. This system is recommended for commercial farmers who have been losing their crop to soil borne diseases.

Soil-less culture involves no work using tools as spades and hoes, machines or tractors. No injury is caused by continuous cropping since it involves no soil. Inter tillage and weeding are eliminated because there are no weeds. Weeds need soil to grow. Fertilisers and watering are automatised and controlled thus reducing water wastage.

On average, soil-less systems use 10 times less water than soil agriculture because they recirculate water. The limited supply of water through drip irrigation makes the system more appropriate for arid and semi-arid areas.

The fact that plants experience less stress and are fed optimally, they’re healthy enough to resist any pests. This means there is minimal use of herbicides or pesticides.

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Is it worth your bet? Yes, the soil less system moves away from the traditional agriculture which is at the mercy of nature.

– The writer is an expert on sustainable agriculture and agricultural solutions

 [email protected]

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