The potato is known for its versatility in growth conditions, and its adaptability has allowed it to be cultivated in a wide range of climates and altitudes. However, the question of whether potatoes can grow in tropical climates is an interesting one.
The short answer is: Yes, they can, but with caveats.
During my youth, I travelled around South-East Asia. I remember you could hardly find potatoes in Indonesia until we went to Mount Bromo in Java – we then spent 3 days gorging on potato dishes until we came back down the mountain to rice.
Potatoes are typically a cool-season crop. They originate from the cool, high-altitude Andean region in South America and have optimal growth conditions in temperatures ranging between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 – 20 degrees Celsius). In contrast, tropical climates have temperatures that often exceed this range, with high humidity levels, posing unique challenges to potato cultivation.
Like the potatoes I had in Indonesia, tropical countries can grow potatoes if they have a mountain range where temperatures are likely to be lower and conditions more favourable to growing.
Growing potatoes in a tropical environment demands careful attention to variety selection, planting times, and crop care. It is important to choose potato varieties that have been bred for heat resistance or are known to perform better under warmer conditions. Some of these varieties include ‘Tropical Russet’, ‘Desiree’, and ‘Glorieta’, all of which are noted for their ability to tolerate heat.
Timing is another crucial factor. Potatoes should ideally be planted in the cooler months of the tropical region. In most cases, this aligns with the onset of the rainy season. Planting at this time allows the potatoes to grow during the cooler period and also uses the increased availability of water.
The care of potatoes in a tropical climate is also slightly different. To prevent tubers from overheating, they should be “hilled” more than in cooler climates. Hilling is a process where soil is mounded around the base of the plant, providing protection from the sun and helping with moisture retention. Using grow bags will also give you more control of the conditions.
In addition, regular watering is necessary, but overwatering must be avoided as this can lead to rot. Also, tropical climates may pose increased pest and disease challenges, requiring diligent monitoring and control measures.
In conclusion, while it is possible to grow potatoes in tropical climates, it requires a bit more planning, care, and attention to details compared to growing them in cooler climates. But with the right approach, you can enjoy home-grown potatoes, even under the tropical sun.
Brian Sheridan has an allotment in Edgbaston and is a competitive grower. Brian is also a keen photographer and loves cooking. Brian and his wife Mary will also be running a stall at Edgebaston artisan market this year, selling products made from the allotment, including his award-winning relish!