Understanding a tomato seedling’s instincts

Tomatoes originated in the wild, where they had to compete with other plants. Some of these might have been of the same species. In nearly all life forms, survival is the most basic instinct. The next priority is to reproduce so that they pass on their genes, writes Bill Kerr at farmersweekly.co.za.

This needs to be kept in mind when considering tomato seedlings. The plant has to compete in the wild and win in order for the reproductive instinct to kick in. So, how does this influence seedlings today? Seedlings still have these ‘instincts’ in their genes, and they have no way of knowing that they will soon be planted out.

In the dense competition of seedling production, the plants are programmed to enter the vegetative stage so that they can grow through the leaf canopy. They will only radically change their tactics when they are transplanted and given plenty of nourishment and sunlight.

The problem is that it takes time to change over, as fruiting formation starts in the plant long before the flowers begin to appear. There are two cures for changing the plant’s orientation. The first is to have wider spacing in the seedbed stage. The second is to plant the seedlings out while they are smaller. The latter option requires that the farmer provides for the plants at this stage without stressing them or losing them.

The first option has a cost disadvantage: it means using seedling trays with fewer cavities and, consequently, a higher production cost. If the seedlings are left in the trays and not transplanted, they end up producing a miserable little fruit as a last-ditch effort to pass on their genes.

Read the complete article at www.farmersweekly.co.za.

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