I’m no expert on gardening in the tropics, I’ve lived here for 5 years, in tropical Queensland, I’m a British expat in Australia, I’ve made plenty of gardening mistakes, but I’m starting to see some good results in the tropical food garden.
Check out our tomato crop.
Until a few years ago I lived in the UK. I’d grow tomatoes every summer, raise a few herbs which usually died off over the winter and struggle to produce one or two aubergines (eggplant).
Tropical fruits like pineapples and bananas were a rare site, other than for a few serious gardeners who pulled off the trick of overwintering banana plants in such low temperatures.
Gardening in the Tropics is Different!
We’ve grown limes, papayas (paw paw), aubergines by the hundred, several bunches of bananas and enough passion fruit to top a whole town’s pavlovas.
The secret with tomatoes seems to be growing them in the ground, rather than in pots. I’ve failed to grow larger varieties at first, but the little cherry tomatoes go crazy in the tropical climate.
But that ground takes work. Starting with non-existent soil, a sheet of clay, we had to build our own soil and feed it well. We opted to do all this naturally learning much from permaculture techniques.
Now I grow killer large tomatoes. We have multiple varieties, all growing well in tropical conditions. The secrets are all in the soil. Just make sure your soil is good and rich, I add bags of manure, often, and keep soil calcium levels topped up. Calcium stops blossom end rot which larger tomatoes are particularly prone to.
That’s the end of the tropical gardening tips for now.
Asian herbs do extremely well, lemongrass, Vietnamese mint, Thai basil, garlic chives and galangal grow all by themselves with no attention from me. European herbs are trickier, but thyme, rosemary and mint are doing OK for me, some in pots in the shade, some in full sun.
Eggplant (aubergines), chili peppers and sweet capsicums grow as perennials, there is no stopping them. We have a supply all year round.
I’ve given up on anything leafy other than kale and rocket, the grasshoppers like eating them too much. They are a total no go area for me for many years. These days I try to check plants daily and pick off bugs. The bugs go to the chickens.
Bananas crop once a year, each plant producing one bunch before being cut back to the ground. Citrus fruit does really well here. Kaffir limes, grow easily, giving me a year-round supply of leaves for curries and fruit for around six months.
Our grapefruit tree, planted 7 years ago, seems to be doing well but we’re waiting for this year’s flowers. A lemon tree and regular lime are new additions.
I grow Indian curry leaf tree to use in southern Indian dishes. It grows despite total neglect. It is a type of neem. I’ve used a leaf extract to help fight off bugs and it does seem to help.
Like I said, I’m no expert, but if anyone needs any help or advice about gardening in the tropics, what you can, and can’t, grow, feel free to drop me a line in the comments section or you can give me tips and ideas. Gardeners need to share, seeds, plants, methods, we have much to teach each other.
Travel Dream Vs Garden and Home
My tropical garden has got to be one of the biggest pluses of emigrating to Australia. Living Down-Under is not always a bed of roses and adjusting to expat life has been hard.
Picking a passion fruit in my own back garden can brighten up even the worst day of home-sickness. The thought of selling up and losing this garden that I’ve worked hard to create is actually holding me back, I’m struggling with the idea of selling the house to live our travel dream.
Cold feet? Me? What should I do, sell up and travel the world or stay and enjoy my tropical home and garden?
This is an old post. We left, we travelled for 6 full years and created the travel blog you’re looking at now. It’s one of the biggest in the world. We still travel, a lot, it’s our job and our joy, but now we also have tropical food gardening to come back to. Between trips, we grow food, keep chickens and we’re about to try aquaculture. We have a new site that covers this, coming soon here The exchange of ideas and tips is so important, we’re all learning.
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Wednesday 8th of July 2020
If you are looking for up-to-date information on tropical gardening then you can usually find it by googling the specific topic. Otherwise sign up for the long-established Dave's Garden forum where there have a specific board on tropical gardening. It's US based but still has a lot of info applicable to other countries. For Australian and Asian based gardeners you'll find a lot of useful links on the Facebook page of Tropical House & Garden Magazine. That's a new online magazine being put together by a group of Australian and Southeast Asian based gardening writers - some of whom have been gardening in the tropics for 40-50 years. So there's a lot of expert knowledge coming our way there. I have about 50 books on tropical gardening that I've collected over the years. The one I always recommend for beginners is 'Gardening in the Tropics' by R. E Holttum & Ivan Enoch. It's published by Marshall Cavendish. It was written many years ago but it's still available online because for many gardeners it is their 'bible'. Hope that helps.
Sunday 28th of June 2020
Staying with my mum has been the thing that has kept us going in lockdown, and we have had the joy of chickens, I’m learning to grow food, trying my hand at hydroponic growing and just got some Quail which are easy to keep. I am still really looking forward to travelling though. I think we will wait til later in the year now, save a bit more and plan a trip to Thailand and then next year to America. My son really wants to drive our motorhome to Mongolia too (actually he want us to drive to Thailand too) I am really looking forward to some epic years of travelling in the future. I’m thinking of setting up a travel blog too but having my own business and coming up with meaningful posts on social media that people will connect with can sometimes be hard when you are feeling flat and have no inspiration. I imagine that can be a problem on a bigger scale when running a blog or travel website. I love reading your posts and thanks for sharing so much with us.
Alyson for World Travel Family
Monday 29th of June 2020
Hi Candice, that would be a dream come true for me, a road trip in Central Asia. We already drove around the north of Thailand, I don't know if it's possible to continue, but I'd love to do it. People do, they drive or even cycle from Europe right through to The Himalayas. We met a Swiss woman once who'd done it solo. Yes, I am feeling very flat. Content, but not brimming with excitement. I'd love to have quail, chickens, aquaculture. All these things keep every day interesting. Several times a day I just put down my laptop and go look at my plants, hunting for tree frogs and blue bees. Growing things makes me happy. And thanks.
Sunday 5th of May 2019
It’s a very helpful with us. Thanks a lot.
Saturday 26th of January 2019
Hi Alyson, are you still active? I would like to talk about tropical gardening with you, I live in Indonesia and it's not going well :( I"m not so comfortable leaving my email address here so hopefully we can talk over instagram. My username is @jcphotography1987 Hope to meet you there!
Sunday 27th of January 2019
Yes still active, and funnily enough, tackling my garden again after 6 years away. Nature has taken over and nobody has done anything to look after it in 6 years - big job. But we're winning!
Sunday 16th of December 2012
Well, since your tomato plant is bigger than my whole backyard I guess I won't be trying any tropical gardening. Looks like fun (and delicious!) though!