Monday, May 17, 2010

Growing Tomatoes in Kihei

Brad's Black Heart

Tomatoes are the queen of the garden. It is true that tomatoes can be grown all year in Hawaii but there are a few things to know about growing tomatoes in Kihei.

Tomato blossoms are somewhat fragile. Temps above 85 degrees can sterilize the pollen or dehydrate the blossom before it produces fruit. Blossoms can also be damaged by powdery mildew which is ever present in the air at sea level. And, temps above 85 degrees tend to cause severe cracking in tomatoes over 2 ounces.

Berkeley Tie-Dye, Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson, Moonglow,
 Beauty King and Cherokee Purple in the center.

I've found that tomatoes over 2 ounces grow better when planted from seed in September or October. Most heirloom tomatoes need 120 days from seed until the first ripening fruit. When these types of tomatoes are started in September/October they'll usually ripen with minimal cracking in January/February, the coolest months of the year.

Napa Rose & Maglia Rosa

Cherry and the small plum/grape tomatoes have a longer growing season in Kihei as most of these tomatoes don't crack from the heat. For best results, I recommend planting cherry tomatoes from August through April. Seedlings or transplants beginning their their growth cycle during the summer tend to struggle due to the higher temps and intense sun.

Pink Bumble Bee & Sunrise Bumble Bee

I start tomato seeds in quart size milk cartons that are cut in half or other small recycled containers filled with organic potting soil. In about 1 month they're large enough to transplant into 15 gallon size Smart Pots filled with an organic potting soil.

At the time I transplant the seedlings, I amend the potting soil with blood meal, fish bone meal, ground egg shells, agricultural epsom salt (for magnesium), green sand and an all-purpose fertilizer. All of the products I use are OMRI or organic. The plants need daily water and generous monthly applications of an organic all-purpose fertilizer.

Lisos Grandes

Love Apple Farm has a detailed post on how they grow their famous heirloom tomatoes.

Powdery mildew, mites, white flies, aphids and leafminer flies can affect my tomato plants throughout the year. Spraying the plants with the various OMRI products is time consuming and expensive. I've found the best remedy is to keep the plants well fertilized.

Dana's Dusky Rose (7 oz - purple)
Don's Double Delight (1.5 lb red stripe)

There are a few pests that affect the fruit and the worst one is the melon fruit fly. These flies begin mating in mid-April and continue through summer months and will attack ripening tomatoes and tomatillos. In my garden, they haven't bothered the 1 ounce size cherry or small plum/grape tomatoes.

The female melon fly sticks the ripening tomato and deposits eggs under the skin and the eggs develop into what look like white maggots. The only option is to protect the fruit from the flies which is not that easy with tomatoes. This is another reason to plant the larger tomatoes in the fall and grow cherry tomatoes in the spring and summer.

If the tomato plant isn't too large it could be protected from melon fruit flies with a tulle tent, the individual tomatoes could be protected with small paper bags, organza drawstring bags or the fruit can be harvested early and allowed to ripen inside the house or outside under some type of protection. Even if the tomatoes are no longer attached to the plant, the melon fruit flies will still attack them

Yellow Furry Boar

Birds will damage the ripening tomatoes, especially the cherry tomatoes. The best defense against birds is to use the plastic netting available online at many of the garden stores. I've found this product locally at both ACE and Kula Hardware. Although more time consuming, small paper bags or organza drawstring bags work for birds too. Twice within the last 4 years, I've found what looked like a tomato horn worm on or in a tomato but so far they haven't become a problem in my garden.

I've been asked about tomato blight diseases and I recently watched a number of YouTube videos on this topic. I don't think blight disease has affected my plants but it does require laboratory testing to actually determine.
Ocean Gardener has written posts about blight affecting his plants in Kula.

Tomato plants will regrow if they're cut back or if they're damaged by high winds. Sometimes when the plants are damaged by powdery mildew and the main stems look okay, I'll cut the plant back - it will usually regrow and produce tomatoes again.

 I've trialed many heirloom tomato seeds. If I had to grow only 1 heirloom tomato it would be the Cherokee Purple - it's delicious sliced, made into salsa or cooked into sauce. It's been one of the hardiest and consistently productive of all the large heirloom tomatoes I've grown.


One of the most productive small tomatoes I've grown is the Flamme (aka - Jaune Flamme). It's yellow-orange, about the size of a golf ball and it is so ono. It holds up well in the heat with minimal cracking as do the cherry tomatoes.
Tsungshigo Grape

Cherry, small plum and grape tomatoes are the easiest tomatoes to dry. I slice them in half, remove the seeds and dry them in a dehydrator. They're delicious added to pasta or as salad garnish. They can also be partially dried and preserved in olive oil with rosemary or other herbs.

TomatoFest is a great source for tomato seeds.
 They must have almost every open pollinated heirloom tomato seed known to mankind and all of their seeds are organic.
And for some of the most outrageous organic tomatoes available on the planet check out 

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