Growing Tomatoes in the Tropics

One of the easiest and most rewarding vegetables to grow is the tomato, though growing tomatoes in the tropics can have its difficulties. The tomato, originally from South America, can grow year round, though dry season crops are definitely much easier to deal with.  The humidity of the wet season can cause so many problems, so if you’re not experienced it is much better to try and grow them in the dry season.

For best results you will need to find a suitable location for growing your tomatoes. The tomato patch should be in full sun. It should be sheltered from the strong winds, although a slight breeze will help with pollination of the flower. The soil should be well drained and rich in organic matter. Tomatoes will do well if grown in pots too.  If you choose to grow in pots I advise using large terracotta pots, the bigger the better. Make sure your soil is healthy, with adequate organic matter. Apply a balanced fertiliser at planting and again when the fruit forms. Too much nitrogen encourages the plant to grow more foliage, not more fruit, so if you over fertilise you will be left with a whole lot of leaves and no tomatoes.

I would advise that you grow from seed, as you will have a greater choice.  It is important to buy a good variety that is suited for the warm tropical environment. Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Jubilee, Moneymaker, Sun Gold, Grosse Lisse, Tropic and Scorpio are all varieties that will do well in a warmer climate. Jubilee, Moneymaker, Sun Gold and Tropic will fruit when it’s humid so they are a must if you wish to try in the wet season.

Smaller varieties such as Cherry tomatoes and Tiny Tim are a good choice because they don’t get attacked by fruit fly. Cherry tomatoes are one of my favorites. They are very hardy and will grow well as a ground cover bush almost anywhere, and do not need to be staked. If you like you may grow them like a vine on a trellis. They are low maintenance, high yield. I have even seen them growing and fruiting out of the rubble of a building site. Cherry tomatoes are very sweet and a good choice for the tropics.

Tomatoes can be grown by simply sprinkling seed over the soil, and then topping with another thin layer of soil (1-2 cm should be enough). If you have a tomato in the fridge you can simply split it open and sprinkle the insides over soil and lightly cover. Within two weeks you will notice tiny seedlings starting to spring up. When you are ready to transfer your tomatoes to the garden bed or a larger pot, make sure that they are spaced, at least 50cms apart. Watering tomatoes regularly is important. Water at the base, because overhead watering or moisture on the leaves will only encourage disease such as fungus or mildew.

The fruit will rot if it comes in contact with earth for any length of time, so taller varieties need to be staked and tied. This is best done when the plants are first put in, to minimise root damage later. For best results I would use cotton cloth to tie tomatoes to the stake, as gardening wire is rigid and can easily cut into and damage the stems as the tomatoes grow or even as they move in the breeze. If you have some old t-shirts cut them into strips and use this as your cotton strips.

Water deeply, once a week, during dry weather. Tomatoes have very deep roots, sometimes going down into the soil up to 5 feet. Shallow watering will only stress and weaken the plants. If plants are stressed they will attract bugs. Happy plants don’t get sick and don’t attract as many pests. You can support your vegetables with a combination of good, deep soil, regular moisture and planting them in the right position. If pests are attacking your tomato fruit before it has fully ripened on the plant, then pick your tomatoes while they are still green, put them in a brown paper bag and store in a dark cupboard. Check on them every few days, after 1-2 weeks you should have beautiful fully ripened tomatoes.

Tomatoes do really well in the tropics, but plant diseases that cause few problems in temperate zones tend to be present in tropical growing zones all year long. Crop rotation will help to reduce pest and disease problems, so that means don’t grow tomatoes in the same part of the garden for two seasons running. It’s not a great idea to plant tomatoes in the same spot year after year, because you start getting cutworms, nematodes and fungal diseases from one year to the next. It not just the soil chemistry, it is also that the pests and diseases start to thrive in that one spot.

I receive countless emails about sourcing seed in Bali and Indonesia. If you are having trouble finding seed for grasses, fruits or vegetables my advice is to try the internet or ebay. In the past I have purchased very good seed from online suppliers, and you will be able to access so many varieties that simply are not available in your local area.
If you need further information on this or any other gardening topic please send me an email.

Dr. Kris
Garden Doctor
Copyright © 2010 Dr. Kris
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