I thought it would be nice to write a feature on tomatoes for those newcomers to Costa Rica who like to garden.
First of all, a big bienvenido, or welcome, to the world of tropical gardening.
First tip: el verano, or the dry season, from January through April, is optimal for growing tomatoes in Costa Rica. That’s because these plants do best with bright, sunny days and little rain. During the rainy season, the weather causes leaf blights and wilts and lowers production. Since there’s little rain now, you can plant tomatoes and water the soil instead of the plants, to get a bumper crop of healthy tomatoes.
You’ll find that many leading nurseries around the country now offer tomato seedlings, or you may want to get your tomato seeds planted soon in flats, so they’ll be ready in a month for planting in the garden or in large containers around the house.
During the dry season, most varieties of tomato will do well, but we prefer the cherry tomatoes, which are hardy and resistant to disease and insects. These varieties also do very well in large pots, which can be placed on porches and eaves in attractive macramé hangers. They can produce a cascade of ripe, delicious tomatoes a hand’s reach from the kitchen. “Florida Basket” and “Gardener’s Delight” are two excellent varieties. Check with your local agricultural supply stores for seeds; they usually offer the best types of tomato seeds for your area.
In the garden, plant your tomatoes in garden beds well fortified with compost or aged manure. A small amount of limestone, ashes and rock phosphate will also help to boost production. A trellis or support for your tomatoes is important, to keep the leaves dry and clean when watering.
As I mentioned, it’s best to water the soil around your tomatoes, instead of the leaves.
This ensures that your plants will grow vigorously without leaf diseases. Mulching around your tomato plants will also help keep their roots from drying out and save on water. Spraying your tomato plants once a week with foliar fertilizers will help them grow better, produce better tomatoes and protect them from disease.
Seaweed (alga marina) extract provides the plants with trace minerals and is now available in most agriculture supply centers, along with Kilol, made from the oil of citrus seeds, which works wonders on preventing tomato leaf and fruit diseases. You can mix them together and spray both at the same time.
During the summer, you may have to keep an eye open for caterpillars, such as the horned tomato worm.Handpicking is usually the best way to treat this problem, though you can protect the plants with a biological control known as Javelin, made from a bacteria that is harmless to humans and animals but fatal to the moth larva.
Pruning is another important aspect of growing tomatoes. It’s important to prune the young, vegetative shoots that emerge from the main stem and base of each leaf stem. These are called suckers, and, as their name implies, they suck energy from the plant to make more foliage instead of tomatoes.
It’s best to pinch them with your fingernails when they are less than an inch long.
I hope these tips help you produce a good crop of summer tomatoes for your salads and meals.