Planting Tomatoes with vaMudhumeni Ticha

Ticha palning tomatoes

At vaMudhumeni, farming is our business and as we wind-down on this rainy summer season we are preparing our fields to grow some tomatoes to take us into the colder and drier parts of the year. We spent a day with vaMudhumeni Ticha as he was preparing to plant some tomato seeds, for seedlings at our Technical Research and Development Center and we thought we would share some of his meticulous prep process with everybody.

VaMudhumeni Ticha usually starts his day very early in the morning and we were there to capture it all. According to vaMudhumeni Ticha,  preparing the soil is one the most important steps when planting seeds directly into the ground. In this instance, he is preparing the soil by mixing it with cow manure, to provide natural fertilizers for the tomato plants as they grow.

Using a trowel, he digs shallow drills about 2.5cm deep in the prepared seedbed. He places two seeds every 20cm or so in the drills and covers the seeds to a depth of 2.5cm. We recommend that you water well if the conditions are at all dry.The seedlings should emerge in about 10 days. When they are about 5cm tall, thin to one plant every 45 to 60cm.

After sowing the seeds vaMudhumeni Ticha covers the sown seeds with dry grass (mulch) in a process called mulching. We recommend covering the seedbed with mulch to prevent the seedbed from drying up as well as to prevent sun damage on the tender seedlings.

We hope you have enjoyed learning about tomato planting from one of our senior consultants. We recently launched our very own Technical Research and Demonstration Center so we can grow our own crops, monitor, assess, study and overall improve our processes. Our goal is to give our customers a much more comprehensive experience when they contract our agricultural extension services. We want to be able to recommend crops and processes that we have studied and used ourselves.  We are thriving to get a more in-depth understanding of crops grown in our country year round, so we can engage all players in the  agricultural industry from seed-producers/suppliers/farmers and consumers from a place of personal experience and more in-depth knowledge. We also use our Technical Research and Demonstration Center as a place where our workshop participants can visit to see the practical side and get hands on training on-site from our experts.

If you have any questions or would like have a one on one consultation or would like host workshop with one of our consultants, please contact us using the information provided below.

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An easy to follow guide to Oyster Mushroom farming

           For those wishing to venture into mushroom farming, we recommend growing oyster mushrooms. They have low startup costs and with proper management you may get a decent return within a very short space of time. Below we have a quick guide on how to get started on growing oyster mushrooms at home.

    Below are a few terms we told you about in an earlier article and a few more to know when it comes to mushroom production.

Spawn – These are the mushroom “seedlings”

Spawning – Is the process of planting the mushroom

Substrate – Is the medium on which mushroom can be grown

Mycelium  It is the thread like part of a fungi (mushroom) that grows on the substrate or soil. It is referred to as hyphae. To put it in simplistic terms, mycelium is like the root of a plant and the mushroom and fungi are like the buds, leaves or fruits of a plant.

Mushroom growing house – After spawning, the substrate bags are kept in this room for development of the mycelium. Dark conditions are required as well as temps of about 24 0C in order to facilitate this process.

Mushroom fruiting – What we commonly see and refer to as “mushroom” is the actual fruit of the plant. Mushroom fruiting is process of the plant producing fruit.

Fruiting vessel – This describes the vessel used to grow the mushroom             

mushroom-grwoing-hosue-3
A simple and basic design for a mushroom growing house.

To begin growing mushrooms you will need a mushroom growing house. Oyster mushrooms, like other mushrooms, are grown in a growing house but they may require a bit more humidity and fresh air than other varieties. Construction of the mushroom growing house should be simple and based on a very basic design. The dimensions depend on the number of substrate bags the grower can handle at any one time. The walls can be constructed out of bricks, poles, dagga, plastic or even thatch. Plastic or foam sheets may be used to line the walls in order to increase the relative humidity in the production house. The roof can be thatched with different kinds of materials like plastic, grass or even banana leaves. Air vents and windows on the upper side of walls are required for ventilation. The air vents and windows can also be used for lighting when needed to initiate fruiting. The mushroom growing house should provide optimum conditions for fruiting. Temperatures should also be carefully monitored and maintained.

 

Oyster mushrooms growing can be divvied up into a four-stage process

 Step One – Substrate preparation

Things to consider when choosing a good substrate

  • Easy availability
  • High nutrient content for the mushrooms to grow
  • Good aeration – not too compact and not too loose
  • Good water holding capacity – not too dry and not too wet.
  • Oyster mushrooms can be grown on a range of substrates such as: paper products, straw, leaves, agricultural waste, cotton residues and sawdust
  • Chopped or shredded substrate is soaked in water overnight. After 24 hours, excess water is drained off and lime can be added. The substrate used must be pasteurised to eliminate contaminants or undesirable organisms. This can be achieved by boiling the substrate in a large pot or some type of drum for 60 minutes before transferring the substrate onto a plastic sheet to cool off to between 38-400 Immersion in boiling water is a cheap but efficient way of pasteurising the substrate. You may need a thermometer to determine when the substrate has cooled to the right temperature.

Step two – Spawning

substrate-and-spawing
Substrate and spawn packed into a clear plastic ba
  • Good spawn is the key to successful mushroom production. You can pack the substrate into a tubular bag (clear plastic bags are often used for this purpose). Commence adding the spawn evenly layer by layer. Care should be taken not to pack the substrate too tightly or too loosely.
  • There is a high risk of contamination during the planting process so it is paramount to keep a sterile environment. Tie the open end of the bag immediately after filling. Bags should be 10 – 20 kg capacity and preferably transparent. This makes it easy to check substrate colonisation and to detect contaminants. String the mouths of the bags and hang them onto racks if possible.

Step Three – Incubation

 

Spawned substrate bags are kept in a dark room at 240C.  The spawned bags can also be covered with black plastic in the mushroom growing house. Incubation lasts between 14-40 days and full colonisation is evidenced by white mycelium covering the whole bag. During incubation, the mushroom mycelium grows to cover the whole substrate. Bags are ready for mushroom formation when the substrate appears white.

Step Four – Fruiting

  • To initiate the formation of the mushroom bodies, expose the bags to light. Open the air vents or windows in the mushroom growing house to provide light and to initiate fruiting. When sufficient lighting hits the  mycelium covered bags, then fruiting commences. After 24 hrs make long cuts at the top and bottom of the bags. Make more long cuts around the centre of the bag for more mushrooms to emerge.  Mushrooms will start to form in 4 days and will be ready for harvesting in the next 2 to 3 days. Temperature should be maintained between 20-280C and an optimum humidity of 80-95%. For some, watering the floor with a can of water helps to maintain higher humidity levels.
  • Harvesting is best done in the cooler hours of the day. That is, very early in the morning or late evening. Refrigerate the harvested mushrooms immediately after picking to preserve freshness. Some mushroom drying methods can also be used at this stage. Continue to harvest mushrooms until the substrate becomes colourless or whitish in appearance and has a soft feel to the touch. A good rule of thumb is that 10kg of substrate should give you a yield of about 10kg-20kg of mushrooms. 

Summary

  • After the substrate is pasteurized (heated to about 100 degrees and cooled), it is then mixed with spawn and packed into long, tubular shaped bags. Most people will use plastic bags. Holes are punched in the bags to allow the mycelium to breathe and the bags are hung up or set on racks in the growing rooms. After about 14 days, the mushrooms pop out through the holes and can be harvested. If straw is used as a growing medium, the substrate can be used as fertilizer after mushroom production is completed.
  • To provide adequate moisture, water the substrate daily taking care not to over water.
  • If temperatures rise to 300C, the door and air vents / windows may be opened at night to allow cool air to enter.
  • Maintain high relative humidity by applying water on the floors and walls several times a day.
  • Incomplete substrate colonisation delays fruiting. Ensure that the substrate is well colonized before initiating fruiting.
  • The mushrooms will stay fresh for 3 to 6 days post harvest when kept in the refrigerator or in a cool area. They can also be dried using local methods of sun drying.

For more information on how you can get help from vaMudhumeni on how you too can get on the road to being an oyster mushroom farmer please contact us atarticle-header-page

Find out why more people are considering oyster mushroom farming?

oyster-mushroom-zimbabweBelow are a few terms one needs to know when it comes to mushroom production.
Spawn – mushroom “seedlings”
Spawning – process of planting mushroom
Substrate – medium on which mushroom can be grown
Weed mold  molds that grow in competition with mushroom
Fruiting vessel – container used to grow the mushroom

We recently shared an article with you about a group of sisters from Zimbabwe who are growing mushrooms commercially. If you read that and you were somewhat interested in pursuing mushroom farming for yourself, then this article is for you. Mushroom farming is an exceptionally low cost farming venture, which could be very beneficial for you and your wallet.
While there are many types of mushrooms out there, the type of mushroom you choose to grow is critical to your success as a grower. Oyster mushrooms are a great option for those who are unsure of where to start. They require very little space to grow and can be grown on any kind of substrate. While the easiest substrate to grow oyster mushrooms on is chopped straw. This can be challenging to acquire depending on where you live. You will be pleased to know that you can also grow them on all kinds of different and inexpensive substrates like cardboard, old cotton clothes or any type of unbleached paper. You can use leaves, dried peanut shells or sawdust. Surprisingly you can even grow them on old boiled coffee grounds. The biggest hurdle for many is the high risk of infection from weed molds which could ruin your yield.
The most important consideration regardless of substrate used is to maintain sterility and avoid contaminants where possible. If you are just starting out or do not have the capacity to create a large-scale sterilizing facility, you can just use hot boiling water. We recommended that you boil the substrate to at least 71-100 degrees celsius for at least an hour or more. You can use a large pot or metal drum that can hold a large quantity of your substrate. Once this is done, remove the substrate and let it cool to room temperature. At this point the spawn can be mixed with the substrate and it can be packed into a clean fruiting vessel. Remember to try and keep your tools as sterile or free from contaminants as possible as well.
We are excited for oyster mushrooms because they are easy to cultivate and very healthy. Oyster mushrooms are relatively new in regards to Zimbabwean cuisine but they have been enjoyed in Asian cuisine for thousands of years. Oyster mushrooms are not only rich in proteins, they are also low in calories. They can be used as a meat substitute. They are also considered fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and very low in sodium.They have also been shown to contain significant levels of vitamins and minerals like fibre, zinc, potassium, selenium, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid, and an array of B,C and D vitamins. Studies have also shown that oyster mushrooms possess some anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties as well.
Oyster mushroom cultivation is the simplest and least expensive when compared to other forms of mushroom farming. This is because oyster mushrooms do not require a lot of extra special inputs. They can easily be grown using locally available materials like agricultural waste. The main component that prospective mushroom growers might need to outsource would be the mushroom spawn. Keep in mind that it is important to maintain sterility throughout the process. If you have done your research and are interested but unsure of how to proceed, we advise seeking professional counsel.

For more information on how you can get help from vaMudhumeni on how you too can get on the road to being an oyster mushroom farmer please contact us atarticle-header-page

Pest insects that could devastate your sweet potato yield

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPreviously we shared  some information about sweet potatoes and why we love them. We also shared some helpful information from our consultants on successful cultivation of sweet potatoes.This week our in house entomologist Kudzi weighs in on some potential pests and insects that could attack your crops and what you can do about it.

According to Kudzi there are over 10 species of insects that could potentially attack sweet potato plant and roots. These insects can damage your plants in many ways.  It could be argued that some insects may have a symbiotic and beneficial relationship with sweet potatoes, however a sudden population over growth could be potentially very damaging for your crops. In some instances this damage could occur while the crops are still in the field and could even occur while they are in storage, resulting in serious economic losses.

Below we look at three main insects that could potentially damage your sweet potato crop.

Sweet Potato weevil

sweet-potato-weevilSweet potato weevils probably pose the greatest threat to your crop. They  can either be black or brown. Some have described them as looking like large ants. This insects has been known to attack any and all parts of the plant. They can feed directly on the outside silky protective layer of the vines and the leaves ( epidermis) it also attacks the external surface of root bulb. A good tell-tale sign is punctures  found on the storage roots . The females can also tunnel through the stems or roots and lay their eggs inside. The developing larvae also tunnel into the roots and stems while feeding. An interesting fact about the adult weevil is that it will play dead when expectantly disturbed.

 

The most highly recommended method of keeping weevil infestation at bay is the use of cultural control practices. Some of these methods include but not limited to : Crop rotation for 2-3 seasons where possible. Also consider  the use of clean (uninfested) planting materials, especially vine tips. Weevils tend to lay eggs in the older woodier parts of the vine. Use of barrier crop such as maize especially planted in advance so that the vegetation is high and helps to restrict weevil migration.Flooding the field for 48 hours after harvest to drown weevils has proved helpful. Hilling up of soil around the base of plants to limit or fill in soil cracks. This practice can also result in increased crop yields. Lastly ash can be sprinkled onto the sweet potato plants and surrounding soil to help kill crawling insects.

Natural Biological Controls include:Ants, spiders, carabids, and earwigs. These insects are natural predators that can feed on weevils and keep their population at bay. There are times when Chemical Controls could be very useful. Dipping planting material in an insecticide solution  (such as carbofuran or diazinon) for 30 minutes prior to planting can control sweet potato weevils for the first few months of the growing season

WIHTEFLY

whiteflyWhiteflies (bemisia)  are known pests that not only attack sweet potatoes but many other agricultural crops as well like tobacco and tomatoes for instance. They can cause serious physical damage to the crop itself but they are also potential virus carriers. In sweet potatoes they are known to suck on the sweet potato plant and thereby removing sap and nutrients. The species, Bemisia tabaci, is particularly damaging pest of sweet potato crops. When they feed, they produce honeydew; sooty and black mold grows on the honeydew-covered leaves, reducing photosynthesis and quality grade thereby reducing yields.

Several Cultural controls can be used. One important control method is removing infected plants and destroying them during the growing season. After harvest, crop residue should be removed so that there are no plant materials for whiteflies to feed on during the crop-free periods. Also any plant that could potentially be an alternative host should also be removed. Biological Control: Many species of insects, mites, and spiders feed on immature and adult whiteflies. Lacewing larvae and lady beetles also prey on whiteflies.

whitefly-larvae

Chemical Control : Farmers are advised to treat white fly populations before they reach outbreak levels. The immature whiteflies can be sprayed with a mixture of insecticidal soap or insecticidal oil in water and special attention should be directed toward the lower surface of the leaves where they tend to infest. Use this method sparingly as repeated applications of the same product may build high resistance levels in whiteflies. To delay and manage resistance, do not treat successive generations of whiteflies with same product. It is recommended that you rotate insecticides often.

SWEET POTATO APHIDS

 

Another pest insect that could damage your crops are sweet potato aphids. The adults and young ones of these soft-bodied, pear-shaped insects are usually pale to dark green but sometimes yellow.

 

Their method of attach is similar to that of whiteflies. They also pierce the leaves to extract sap and nutrients while feeding and could potentially transmit viruses as well. . The honeydew secreted by the aphids also promotes the development of black sooty mold on the leaves. Aphids tend to spread rapidly from field to field, transmitting a number of viral diseases. Melon aphid is a primary vector of sweet potato. These aphids are known to transmit feathery mottle virus which is a common virus in sweet potatoes.

aphid-on-sweet-potato-2

Cultural Controls: The best mode of control for aphids is the removal of infested crops as soon as they are identified. It is also important not to rotate sweet potatoes with a crop that could be an alternative host for aphids. Sometimes blasting them off with a stiff spray of water from a hose pipe can help.Biological Controls :Natural predators such as ladybird, beetles and lacewings tend to naturally control the aphids. They both love to feed on aphids.

Chemical control: If the problem persists and just won’t go away, the first choice would be insecticidal soaps and oils that work on direct contact with the pest, and they should be and sprayed on all the leaf surfaces above and below. These will however also kill the beneficial insects so be sure to use sparingly.

For more on the pointers listed above or for more information on how to obtain potato splits or roots, a drip kit irrigation system or any other helpful resources please get in touch with us. Also please contact us if you are interested in starting your very own sweet potatoes project. We have consultants available for a one on one session on how you can get your very own project off the ground. We are happy to assist any individual, whether they are an urban or rural small-holder farmer or commercial farmer. We will also work with groups or organizations interested in getting a jumpstart on their very own project. Please contact us today for an appointment and details on how to get started on a new and exciting farming venture with us.

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recommended links

REFERENCES

Collins, W. W. (1995). Sweet potato. Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products. Available at: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/cr…. [Accessed 16 April 15]. Free to access.

Webb, S. E (2015). Insect Management for Sweet Potatoes. University of Florida IFAS extension. Available at :http//edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ig159/ig159. [Accessed January 20 17]Free to access

PadillaCRT 2017. Intergrated Pest Management. North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission Available at:http://www.ncsweetpotatoes.com/sweet-potato-industry/growing-sweet-potatoes-in-north-carolina/integrated-pest-management. [Accessed January 21,2017]Free to access