Tomato irrigation: How to grow tomatoes with low rains

Water for tomato irrigation is a key factor for any farming activity. Without water, nothing can grow. When the water demand is high like is the case for tomatoes, the cost of getting this water eats into the overall profits of the business.

You can reduce the consumption of water on the farm using sprinklers, mulch, and drip irrigation. When you implement these tomato irrigation methods you will notice that you lower agricultural water use saving you the cost of pump fuel. Also, the water you store in your tank will last you longer.

Although all farmers can benefit from a reduction in water wastage at the farm, those in dry areas need these tomato irrigation techniques the most. Where water is scarce, every drop needs to be accounted for. So as you look through the techniques, you have to bear in mind the climate in the area you are farming and the terrain.

Tomato irrigation techniques to save water

Drip irrigation

Drip irrigation refers to a technique of using pipes that have tiny holes on them that release water in droplets. When you are laying down the pipes, you arrange them in such a way that the drippers (which are the holes) align with the root s area of the tomato plant.

Because water is delivered at the root area of the plant in droplets, the water sinks deep into the soil and that is get soaked in moisture quickly and the process is stopped. Because only a small area around the roots gets water, you end up reducing water use than you would have had you used any other method.

This tomato irrigation technique might require a specialist because of all the design and plumbing work. However, you can easily do it yourself with a good guidebook. You can buy the supplies at your local irrigation supply shop.

The pipes have different spacing. You choose a pipe based on the recommended spacing of the crop you will plant. For field tomatoes, the recommended spacing is usually 60cm apart.

Once, the lines are connected to the pump or tank water source, you are good to go. This is by far the most economical, both in cost and use of water.

There are other methods to reduce the use of water such as hydroponics and aeroponics but these have a high cost of setting up.

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Mulching

Mulching refers to covering up the soil around the roots of plants to increase moisture retention in that area. The material used for mulching is called mulch. They increase moisture retention by reducing evaporation in this way. When the sun hits the ground, the ground gets hot which in turn heats the moisture in the soil. When the moisture gets too hot, it evaporates leaving the soil dry.

When mulch is applied, the dead leaves act as shade from direct sunlight [1]. As a result, the soil under the mulch remains cool and moisture does not evaporate. In the case of your tomatoes, they have more moisture to grow healthy and strong. You will effectively reduce agricultural water use by reducing the number of times you need to irrigate your farm.

Organic mulch

Dead plant materials are the most commonly used form of mulch because they are easily available and cheap to acquire. Dried grasses are the most common in this category because they pose no risk of injury to you compared to twigs.

The grass is cut beforehand and left out in the sun to dry. Once they are dry, they can be used for mulching. The leaves have to be dried before they are used as mulch to kill any bacteria or disease-causing microorganisms that may be hiding on them. If you transfer them while they are fresh, you risk carrying these diseases into your farms which results in losses.

You can also buy hay from balers and use that instead.

Once you have your mulch prepared, you spread a thick layer of it around the root area of the tomato plant.

Plastic mulch

Another type of mulch you can use is called plastic mulch. Here, you use a sheet of special polythene to cover the soil instead of dry grass. The plastic traps the moisture under it keeping the soil moist.

Plastic mulch in the field

You first lay the sheet along the length of the row, then make holes where you will place the seedlings. This method works best if applied during transplanting.

The polythene comes in a large size so you have to measure the width you want to cover on each row of the plant and cut according to that measurement. They also come in varying thicknesses and colors and can be bought from your local irrigation equipment store.

If you live in a hot place, you can pick the one with a silver color at the top to reflect heat and prevent the soil from becoming too hot. High soil temperatures damage the roots of your tomatoes. If you are in a cold place, you can pick the black one which will absorb heat from the sun and store it in the soil for when it gets cold at night.

Read more: How often should you water tomato plants?

Tomato irrigation with sprinklers and rain guns

As the name suggests, a sprinkler is a device that throws streams of water into the air which come back down as droplets. They are made to mimic rainfall. You place the device in the area you want to irrigate, connect the pipes and turn on the tap. Once the area is wet enough, you transfer it to another area till you are done with the whole farm.

Rain gun

There are many types of sprinklers that have been developed over the years as new technology is invented. A good example is rain guns. Rain guns are propped up on heavy wheels which can be rolled around d in the farm. Water is sent to the rain gun at very high pressure which allows the rain gun to shoot water covering a large radius.

Because they simulate rain, they soak the soil with tiny droplets at a time giving it time to sink deep. This means that the soil will get wet with much water to spare unlike techniques like furrow irrigation. However, this might use more water than drip irrigation for example.

There is a sprinkler for all budgets. Just talk to your local store attendant and they will advise you accordingly.

You can combine these techniques for even better results

When used together with mulching you get an even better result with your water consumption as well as your crop. Both the drip and sprinkler irrigation systems can be used in this way. The sprinklers and the drip system will deliver the water while the mulch will preserve it in the soil for much longer.

Word of caution

  • The mulch is best laid on top of the drip line so that the water gets to the soil. If the pipes lay on top of the mulch, the water will soak the mulch instead of the soil denying the tomato plants their much-needed water supply.
  • In addition, when they are heated by the sun the water will evaporate.
  • This is also a challenge for using mulch with sprinkler irrigation. The water lands on the mulch and soaks it instead of the soil. You will need to use more water for it to get to the soil underneath.

The good thing is you still end up using far less water while getting great results from your crop.

Read More

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