By LILLIAN KIARIE

After losing his job as a matatu conductor in Kiambu
town due to over indulging in alcohol, Wangoto*
became a petty thief to survive.

“I was caught red-handed inside a chicken coop in
the middle of the night holding two large birds.

How could I even deny that I was stealing them?” he
asks.

In November 2011, he was sentenced to one
year at the Kiambu GK Prison.

The Gachie resident says that this was a blessing in
disguise since his prison experience equipped him
with new farming skills.

While in prison, he learned about growing tomatoes
and potatoes on the same stem through grafting.

The resultant plant is called pomato, or in some
literature, tomato.

Wangoto, now reformed, has been growing
pomatoes on his family’s two-acre farm.

“I have maximised space on the tract of land by
growing tomatoes and potatoes together.

This has also eased the time, labour and money I would have
used, yet I have still maintained top quality
produce,” he says.

Last season, Wangoto says he made over Sh200,000
from his harvest.

“The plant’s production was overwhelming; the
pomatoes did extremely well.

We might have lost
some produce since we did not have market for the
whole lot and due to storing in humid areas, but we
have since learnt from this and started constructing
bigger stores,” he says.

Last year in April, Wangoto and his brother Mwangi
were among exhibitors displaying their produce at a
Kiambu County farmers’ exhibition at Ndumberi
Stadium.

“We shared the grafting technique with other
farmers.

They have to understand that although
these plants don’t seem like they are related, they
are part of the same family — the Solanaceae
(nightshade) family — so you can graft them,”
Mwangi says.

The advantages of the pomato is that since you are
planting both tomatoes and potatoes on the same
plant, you save on space and time.

You can grow the crop on a balcony or small
backyard and harvest enough to subsist on.

Grafting also improves resistance to bacteria, fungi, and
pests.

Wangoto says the grafting process starts with
the farmer selecting a potato and tomato plant of
about the same height and width.

With a sharp knife, cut the potato stem about an
inch from the roots and make a V-shape cut.

“Get rid of the roots from the tomato plant and make a
straight cut on the stem.

Shape the cut to create a
wedge shape that will fit into the potato’s V-shape
cut.

“Carefully slide the two cut pieces together and
wrap the graft with grafting tape, ensuring it holds.

In about three weeks, when the plant starts showing
signs of growth, you can remove the grafting tape
and replant it.”

Kiambu Prisons GK Farm Manager Samuel Manene adds that you can use a polythene strip to tie the
potato bud and the dissected tomato scion together.

“Ensure you carry out the dissection high above soil
levels to hinder disease-causing organisms from
infecting the upper plant.

After grafting, the tomato
leaves continue making food for the potato tubers
beneath the soil,” he said.

Embed the grafted plants 10cm deep in troughs
about 70cm apart and with 30cm between tubers.

When planting, mix fertiliser into the soil at a rate of
about 1kg of fertiliser/compost/organic fertiliser for every 35m of trough. Weed
and earth up the pomatoes as they grow, with the
final earthing up to be done when the plant is 25cm
high.

Ensure you constantly irrigate the plants.

The potato is the most important non-grain food
commodity in Kenya.

The crop grows best in cool
altitudes of between 1,500 to 2,300 metres above
sea level in loamy soil.

Potatoes and tomatoes are prone to attack by late
blight and bacterial wilt.

“It is thus recommended
that you spray fungicides, and since there is no
chemical control for bacterial wilt, use clean,
resistant seed varieties and carry out crop rotation
with cereals,” Mwangi says.

Note that grafting can affect the flavour of tomatoes
(though some say those on the pomato have a
sweeter taste).

Also, grafted plants can yield less
fruit than two separate plants grown from seeds.

It is thought that the pomato was first tried out in
Kenya in 2010 by Kamiti Prison inmates who were
guided by Chinese literature on the grafting
process.

* Wangoto is a nickname and his contacts are currently protected for privacy. Visit Kiambu GK Prison in Kiambu Town for further info. Admission into the facility is solely at the Prison’s authority for security reasons.

Courtesy of;
Bernard Wainaina,
Profarms Consultants.

Contacts;

Email~profarms@hotmail.com

Cell~+254722659313{SMS/Whatsapp ONLY}

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