Veggies For Rainy Seasons: Tips On Growing Food Plants In The Tropics

By: Amy Grant

High temperatures and humidity can either work magic on vegetables cultivated in the tropics or create problems with diseases and pests. It all depends on the type of crops grown; there are some more adaptable veggies for rainy seasons that should be considered. Some specific crop planting in rainy seasons may need the assistance of plastic row covers and pesticides or plant varieties of veggies that are suited to the humid, wet climate.

Veggies typically grown in the United States, such as lettuce and tomatoes, are less than suitable for growing food plants in the tropics. Lettuce, for example, dislikes the heat and will bolt almost immediately.

Vegetable Gardening in the Tropics

Insects, both good and bad, are to be had in every garden in every area of the globe. Tropical insects tend to be rather plentiful and as such may become a plague to the garden. Better soil equals healthier plants, which are less susceptible to insects or diseases. If you plant crops that are not suitable veggies for the rainy season, they tend to stress and when they stress, they emit substances that bugs can sense, which in turn attracts the insects.

So the key to growing healthy food plants in the tropics are to amend the soil with organic compost and to plant traditional vegetables that are cultivated in the tropics. Sustainable vegetable gardening is the name of the game and working with the natural temperatures and humidity of a tropical climate rather than against it.

Vegetables Cultivated in the Tropics

Tomatoes will grow in the tropics, but plant them during the winter or dry season, not the rainy season. Choose a heat tolerant variety and/or cherry tomatoes, which are hardier than larger varieties. Don’t bother with traditional lettuce varieties, but Asian greens and Chinese cabbage do well. Some tropical veggies grow so rapidly during the rainy season;, it’s hard to keep them from overtaking the garden. Sweet potatoes adore the wet season as do kang kong, amaranth (like spinach) and salad mallow.

Other rainy season veggies include:

  • Bamboo shoots
  • Chaya
  • Chayote
  • Climbing wattle
  • Cowpea
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Vegetable fern
  • Jack bean
  • Katuk
  • Leaf pepper
  • Long bean
  • Malabar spinach
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Pumpkin
  • Roselle
  • Scarlet ivy gourd
  • Sunn hemp (cover crop)
  • Sweet potato
  • Tropical/Indian lettuce
  • Wax gourd/wintermelon
  • Winged bean

The following veggies should be planted towards the end of the rainy season or during the dry season as they are susceptible to pests at the height of the rainy season:

  • Bitter gourd melon
  • Calabash
  • Angled luffa, similar to zucchini

When gardening in the tropics, just remember that the conventional veggies grown in Europe or North America don’t cut it here. Experiment with different varieties and use veggies that are climatically adapted. You may not get all your favorite veggies from home to grow, but you will undoubtedly add to your repertoire and expand your cooking to exotic tropical cuisines.

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Read more about General Vegetable Garden Care

Growing Vegetables.

Growing vegetables is a bit of a challenge for many people who newly move to a tropical climate. Even readers in subtropical climates struggle with growing vegetables in hot weather.

No wonder. Most of the vegetables we are familiar with are most comfortable in a European or North American climate.

We're all familiar with tropical fruits and exotic herbs and spices. But when growing vegetables in the tropics, everybody seems to fall back onto the usual lettuce/cucumber/tomato combo.

Now, you CAN grow those vegetables in the tropics. They are listed below, and the individual articles (once written) will help you with growing vegetables in hot weather.

But the best thing you can do if you want to grow vegetables in a tropical climate is to simply switch to growing tropical vegetables.

Follow permaculture principles: work with nature not against it and grow the vegetables that LIKE growing in your climate. It saves you so much hassle and bug problems and the harvest will be MUCH bigger.

Here's a (growing) list of vegetables to grow. And seeing it only has a couple of links at this stage, I realise I should focus on this area in the near future.

Vegetables & Greens that Thrive in the Tropical Rainy Season

When the rainy season arrived, it started with a sense of relief - dry season went on longer than expected and our trees and plants were scorching in the heat. For myself the cooler air was welcome comfort, and the rains a reminder of home and getting cozy. Mornings were beautiful with the sight of the sun rising through the dewy mist.

But very soon our zone one vegetable gardens with our recently planted greens began to suffer - the sheer force of the rains and the humidity brought fungal and mildew issues. Faced with the reality that our beans and delicate greens were going to die out, I thought about the potential of using cover crops, such as sweet potato, for the rest of the year. But this did not seem to fit in my idea of what permaculture asks us to do: observe and interact with the environment we are situated in and use that to our advantage. With this in mind, we at Rancho Mastatal have been planting crops that thrive both in the intense heat and thumping rain. Below are some of the most popular vegetables that we are growing in the Ranch that are suitable for the rainy season:

Cucumbers have been abundant in our garden this season with us pumping out quick pickles nearly every day. Not bad for a community feeding 30-40 people daily! Thankfully, cucumbers like warm, humid weather. We grew ours by seed on a trellis to allow for more air flow and for the fruit to stay above ground.

Described as among the most heat-tolerant vegetable species in the world. It is planted for its seed pods which can be cooked, pickled, eaten raw, or included in salads. It does become mucilaginous so do consider this if you're sensitive to the slime.

This leaf green is native to southeast Asian and is delicious stir-fried with soy sauce and garlic. It is a semi aquatic plant, a creeper that grows in or near the water on moist soils, so it is ideal for our climate.

Both Green and Cranberry Hibiscus are delicious perennials that thrive in the warm and wet. They self seed easily during dry season so when the rains come you have a whole bunch of babies to keep your salad zesty and fresh. The leaves do contain oxalic acid so cannot be consumed in large, consistent quantities.

Also known as tree spinach this is an excellent perennial green native to Mexico. It's leaves are edible once cooked, like spinach. It's easy to propagate by cutting and loves the heavy rain.

Malabar spinach is another heat and moisture-loving spinach-like green. The succulent leaves can be eaten both raw and cooked. We have only a few plants so we are trying to improve the population. We use a trellis to support its tendency to vine.

Also known as Goa bean and princess beans, these are sweet protein packed vegetables that do well in heat and humidity. They can fix their own nitrogen when the bacterium Rhizobium is in the soil. They are best harvested young and tender, and great raw in a salad.

Other more delicate greens we are growing in our nursery as they don't require as much water, such as Arugula, mustard greens and Asian cabbages.

By having our covered nursery space we are able to grow things under cover that otherwise would not do so well outside, we are also experimenting with making some movable covered spaces for out outdoor garden beds….. we will update you with progress so make sure to Like and Follow us on Facebook & Instagram

Build a raised garden bed for the Tropics

Singapore’s landscape is highly urbanised and soil for growing plants is largely disturbed and consists of mostly clay with low organic matter and offers poor drainage. In edible plant gardens, raised beds offer the gardener the flexibility to concoct a more suitable soil mix that is used to grow a particular crop. The raised column of soil found in a raised bed can help to keep the roots of plants off waterlogged conditions and allows excess water to drain away. The raised bed frames prevent soil from being washed away during heavy rains.

The use of geotextile fabric-lined galvanised steel wire mesh raised beds in a vegetable garden in Singapore

Raised beds with concrete or brick-lined frames are preferred in Singapore as they are more durable than timber under tropical conditions. Concrete or brick-lined frames, although more durable, are also permanent. They cannot be reconfigured after they have been constructed. One major disadvantage is that the soil column in these concrete/brick-lined raised beds tends to stay wet for long periods, especially during the rainy season.

An alternative type of raised bed can be constructed. Instead of using concrete or bricks, this raised bed is framed by means of a galvanised steel wire mesh that is lined with geotextile fabric on the inside. Cable ties are used to hold the geotextile fabric in place. The thickness of the wire that make up the wire mesh will somewhat determine the shape of the raised beds that can be fashioned as it affects the ease of bending the mesh to give the desired shape.

Over time, the geotextile fabric may discolour and if this appearance bothers you, use your creativity to come up with ways to disguise it

The geotextile fabric used to make these raised beds offers an added advantage. As it is porous, it allows the column of soil to ‘breathe’. In the tropics where rain can be plentiful, excess moisture in the soil column can evaporate easier and faster in a geotextile fabric-lined raised bed versus one that is lined using thick concrete or bricks. The soil composition is also important – one can concoct a mix that is more porous with lots of coarse sand added to enhance drainage and evaporation that is necessary to reduce the likelihood of prolonged wet feet experienced by our plants.

A second advantage offered by this alternative type of raised bed is that it can be moved around when need arises, although some effort needs to be put in to empty out the soil. The height of this wire mesh raised bed can also be raised to cater to the needs elderly gardeners, people on wheelchairs and those with back issues.

A planted border of flowering plants not only add colour to the vegetable garden, they also attract pollinators like butterflies and bees to help fruit set for fruiting vegetables. The shrubs used to create this border also obscures the raw look of the steel wire mesh raised beds

The appearance of these wire mesh raised beds will confer an industrial look to the garden. Depending on the colour of the geotextile fabric, they can discolour over time. For gardeners who are not comfortable to such an appearance, you can put your creativity to use by coming up with ways to disguise and beautify the raised bed’s exterior. One of the ways employed was to plant around the raised bed. Shrubs that can grow up to the height of the raised bed can effectively obscure the exterior of the wire-mesh raised beds.

To-do list

  • liquid fertilise leafy vegetables fortnightly
  • protect frost-sensitive plants with cloches
  • make plans for doing bigger jobs in the cool
  • spray or net brassica to control grubs
  • plant bare-rooted deciduous fruit trees
  • sow hardy green manure crops in unused beds
  • re-pot perennial herbs with fresh potting mix
  • protect seedlings against snails and slugs

Vegetable Gardening Tips and Hacks for Beginners

When you grow vegetable seeds in the tropics, you need to consider insects. Insects will be in every garden and there will be plenty of them, especially during the rainy season. So be careful they don’t become a plague to the garden.

It is better to use a well-drained rich organic soil. It is important to water and feeds regularly, especially while plants are growing and don’t forget to use a fertilizer.

Remember the key to grow healthy vegetables in the tropics is to work with the natural temperatures and humidity of a tropical climate rather than against it.

Finally, don’t forget that in Malaysia the best way to buy tropical vegetable seeds is online as it is easier and convenient.

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