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Growing off-season vegetables

LAHORE: Fruit & Vegetable Development Project (FDVP) of the Punjab Agriculture department has installed 45 tunnels in six regions of the province. The programme for educating farmers in using tunnel farming for growing off-season vegetables would start from November 1 this year.

Tunnel farming involves constructing greenhouses-hut-like structures swathed in plastic that serve as cocoons for growing tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, carrots, strawberries and bushels of other fruits and vegetables.

The idea of tunnel farming is to shield the crops from the elements and trap the heat of the sun, extending the growing season and increasing production.

“The tunnels provide a microclimate around the crops that essentially fools them into thinking it is a different season than it really is,” agriculture specialist explained.

The regions selected for tunnel farming included Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Sargodha, Toba Tek Singh and Rahim Yar Khan and the framers of 45 villages of these regions will be educated about cultivation of four vegetables, cucumber, tomato, green chili and capsicum, during off-season, sources revealed to The News on Wednesday.

They further said that these tunnels were established in already working Farmers Field Schools of the province. The training session would be for six months starting from November 2007 to April 2008, they added.

“Picking of cucumber cultivated in tunnels starts in the first week of January, capsicum in the first week of February and tomato at the end of February and start of March so the training will continue for six months,” they remarked. “For tomato picking, minimum required temperature is 35 degree Celsius, so it will start late February or at the start of March,” they added.

The tunnels were set up over an area of 12 marla for education purposes only while hybrid seeds would be used for cultivation as production of these seeds was more than normal seeds. On the other hand, the production of tunnel farming was 10 times more than normal farming, they added.

They said the process of educating farmers about cultivation of off-season vegetables in tunnels started last year and as a result a 100 per cent increase was registered in the total cultivated area of tunnel farming in the province. Previously, tunnel framing was continued in only 1500 acre land of the province and now only in Okra and Sahiwal districts around 1500 acre land was being used for this farming only.

Talking about the criteria of selection of farmers, they said that the department conducts the vegetable growing areas of these six regions districts and where the farmers showed interests, the department establishes a school.

They said that in every school 25 farmers educate in once session and new session would start in next month. Talking about the commercial tunnel farming, they said that the Punjab agriculture department had already made the feasibilities for 5 acre to 15 acre tunnel farming. Under these feasibilities the tunnel farming has differentiated in three categories according to the height of the tunnel.

Talking about the services being provided by the Farmers Field schools, they said that were growing off-season vegetables through tunnel technology, growing seasonal open field vegetables, conducting agri-echo system analysis for identification of insect, pests, diseases, nutritional deficiencies, soil problems etc.

Integrated crop management (ICM) techniques, capacity building of farmers for making their own decisions according to situation for better crop management are also included in the services, they concluded.

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