Posted by: paulbassler | March 26, 2013

Growing Organically In The Tropics

It was back in the early 70s when I saw my first organic garden. I was visiting a friend in Port Angeles, Washington, and though I cannot remember which friend I was visiting, I can still see the beautiful garden his wife had created. It had a white picket fence, was fully mulched and had vegetables hanging on every plant. I was hooked.
Shortly after that trip to Washington I moved to Guam. For those who don’t know, Guam is a beautiful tropical island located in an area known as the Pacific Rim. A three hour flight to Japan, five hour flight to the Philippines, Thailand and Australia, Guam is a U.S. territory where “America’s Day Begins.” For the next thirty-nine years, I made Guam my home.
Being a tropical environment, the temperature on Guam never gets below 70 degrees or higher than 90 degrees. In the tropics you don’t have four seasons. Instead, you have six months of dry season and six months of rainy season, though sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. During the dry season, humidity is down, the trade winds are constant and every day is barbeque weather. It is the ideal growing season. During the rainy season, you still get many beautiful sunny days, though monsoons are common, typhoons occasionally swing by and the humidity feels like a blanket of wet air. The heavy rains during the rainy season make it difficult to grow many of the common vegetables, but there are still many things to grow in the garden year around, as long as you allow for drainage.
My wife and I always had food growing in the yard. When we first bought our property, a half-acre on the southern side of the island, we planted a variety of fruit trees, including mango, banana, guava, lemon, lime, cherry trees and more. During the dry season, our garden would provide us with tomato, cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe, onions, broccoli, cabbage, hot peppers, bell peppers and more. We always grew organically, but ran into challenges that were hard to solve.
I remember my early gardens when I would put seedlings in the ground only to find them destroyed the following day. It took me a while to discover that land crabs were responsible. Guam has these land crabs that bore holes in the soil that made our fence useless. I tried filling the holes with water, but I got the impression that there were miles of caves under the ground and the water had little effect. I tried looking in my organic gardening books and magazines for a solution to no avail. I checked online, but still could not find anyone facing the same problem. There is lots of pest management information out there, but not that much for the kind of pests you find in the tropics. I finally asked other farmers and gardeners on Guam about the land crabs and learned what to do. You get a foot-long piece of bamboo the same diameter as the hole in the ground, which was about the size of a baseball. Bamboo has segments throughout the stalk, so you cut a piece open at one end and sectioned off on the other. At the open end, you take a tin can top, like a top from a tuna can. You put a small hole at the top of the tin and attach it with wire or string to the lip of the bamboo with the tin angled into the bamboo. Essentially you are making a one-way door. At the sealed end of the bamboo, you put a hole about the size of a quarter. Place the bamboo down in the hole with the one-way door on the bottom. At night, when the crab comes out, he walks through the one-way door and gets trapped. Using this method, I not only stopped the crabs from destroying my garden, but caught enough crabs for a great crab meal.
The tropics have a lot of bugs and pests not found anywhere else. You also find many of the common pests, such as aphids, beetles, grasshoppers and other troublesome insects. Many of the organic pest management techniques used throughout the states work well on Guam. One of the best pest management tools I used on my tropical garden was hot peppers and water. Guam has an indigenous hot pepper, known as Doni, that is so hot it will burn a hole in your skin if you get it on you. That may be a slight exaggeration, but it is really hot. I would soak some Doni in water for a couple of days and spray my plants with it. This worked extremely well on ants that were living in my corn plants.
Other organic techniques used in the tropics include banana leaves and coconut husk as mulch. Neem oil is also a popular pest resister and is also used on the mainland. The Neem tree grows in the tropics, making it beneficial to have growing near the garden.
Organic growing is more than not using synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Organic growing is about being a part of the natural process. Growing in a tropical environment is different than growing in all the other zones, therefore many of the solutions to the challenges of organic growing in the tropics will come from the tropical environment. If you have discovered organic techniques found in your unique growing zone, please share. To support your organic garden, please visit

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