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 


  1. Aloha ,
    A member of tomatoville shared this site with me. You have given me hope. I am presently growing some U.H. Manoa N-63 and Kewalo cherry. I almost gave up on heirlooms , but the Cherokee Purple was the winner. It only gave me 3 tomatoes , but I was happy with them. Mahalo ,
    Tom ,Honolulu

    1. Hi Tom - where do you live in Hawaii? I just started to plant my winter tomato seeds and will be planting more through Sept. If you live on Maui I will have extra seedling plants I can share with you in October. I had good luck with Cherokee at first when Maui was still in a drought but the last few years they haven't done very well. (I need to update my tomato post.)I have a few others that have been real producers - I can mail seeds to you if you live on a different island. You cam email me at Aloha, Jane

    2. Oh sorry I see you are in Honolulu - email your address to me and I will send you seeds of varieties that have grown well for me.

  2. Aloha Jane,
    I live on Oahu. I have tried Baker Creek seeds. Cherokee Purple ,Fox Cherry , bell peppers,none really did to well in containers, for me. I did get rid of all my potting soil and switched to Hydroton and coco coir with some perlite. I also got seeds from U.H. Manoa and their doing great. One fox cherry is still hanging in there, but has some leafroll. I thank you for the offer of sending me seeds. But really I have plenty of Baker creek seeds that I can send to you. I'm done with heirlooms for now. I have 3 kind squash, tom thumb peas, cherokee, leeks, peppers all 2017 seeds. All yours to share if you like. Let me know.

    1. Hi Tom,
      If you aren't adding fertilizer to your potting soil that may be the problem. I highly recommend using Nutririch - you should be able to find it in Honolulu. September is the best month to plant larger tomatoes and December is the best month to plant peppers but they both need fertilizer to start with and fertilizer added each month in order to grow and produce. Here is a link to a post about the product.

  3. Yes,I used Miricle grow liquid mix. Now with the hydroton, I use Fox Farms grow big. The plants did fine before, just no tomatoes. The flowers just blew away. That's why I changed seeds. I have 15 tomato plants 3 inches tall, 8 kawalo cherry 12 inches tall, 6 green pepper same size and 6-7 pepperochini peppers 3-4 inches tall. Seems like they are all happy. I am interested in Hauula tomatoes next. We'll see how it turns out.

  4. Well I don't know why you aren't getting any tomatoes. The only thing I can say from my experience is that most vegetables and herbs can't handle the intense sub-tropical summer sun and the heat so I try to time my tomatoes and annual peppers to produce their main crops prior to July as from July until October the summer climate where I am is just too adverse for growing most herbs and annuals.

    1. That is exactly what happened. The N-63 from U.H. is hybrid from wild tomatoes and something else. I'm still going to keep trying to see what will work. But for now I need to find a way to make space for what is growing now.
      Have a good one. Aloha

    2. You should have better luck getting your seedlings to set fruit as we are coming into the cooler months. I could go on an on about the challenges of growing anything here during the summer. Well good luck with your fall tomatoes!

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  6. Aloha Jane
    I have been busy and finally got some time to update you. After some reasearch, I found that my plants were not getting enough nutrition. I changed somethings and got with the Foxfarms plan and what a difference. The tomatoes came like gangbusters. Now I'm growing Fushimi peppers,pepperichino's& japanese cucumbers. I did have a spat with Aphids and took care of them with Dawn dishwashing soap mix. Now just keeping my ph and nutrition in check,and things are doing fantastic. Thanks and Aloha,
    Have a great day. Tom

    1. Wow that's great to news!! I'm the one having trouble this year as we have had some unusually cold nights that have damaged my tomato and basil plants. But the last of the radicchio was loving the colder temps.

  7. Just found your blog today while looking for some local tips. What a great resource! I am new to growing and live in a high rise in Honolulu so I only have room on the lanai to grow things in pots. But I've had a lot of success with tumbling tom yellow tomatoes in a hanging basket. They're delicious little tomatoes!

    1. Mahalo for your appreciation! That's so cool that you're growing on your lanai. I lived in Honolulu from 1991 through 99 but I didn't have a garden then. I've seen Tumbling Tom at Home Depot - I'll have to try growing that one.