Growing solanums

Planting eggplants, capsicums, chillis, edamame beans and okra
  • The weather has warmed up enough, and consequently the soil, to get the heat-loving plants into our edible garden.
  • We’re planting both Asian and European eggplants, chilli Paprika, the blocky round capsicums and capsicum Marconi Red, edamame beans and okra in compost-enriched soil.
  • Plant eggplants, chillis and capsicums about 50cms apart. You won’t need more than 1 or 2 chilli plants as they bear generously. Edamame are like dwarf beans – they only grow 30-40cms high – so they can be grown about 30cms apart. Okra need more space – plant about 60cms apart.
  • Next we apply the soil additives that these plants thrive on. We’ll give a calcium boost in the form of gypsum to the eggplants, chillis and capsicums. This is to strengthen the cell structure of the plants and helps to prevent blossom end rot. The family of solanums, to which they belong, like a slightly acidic soil and gypsum doesn’t affect the pH of the soil.
  • Then we apply rock dust to all the plants, including the edamame and okra, to make them nutrient-dense and to keep them healthy.
  • Next we add neem granules to the eggplants, chillis and capsicums to ward off any possibility of a psyllid attack.
  • And finally all the plants get a good dose of a nitrogen fertiliser like chicken poo or sheep pellets. Shake any excess off the leaves of plants and smooth it out evenly over the bed. Water it all in.
  • If you live in an area that has big differences between day and night temperatures, we recommend you surround your eggplant, capsicum and chilli plants with rocks, chunks of concrete or even drink bottles filled with water. They’ll warm up during the day and retain their heat into the night, radiating it out to the plants.
  • Finally it’s a good idea to net the bed to prevent birds or animals from disturbing the seedlings until they get established.
Delateralling tomatoes
  • It’s important to delateral tomatoes before they get too big but more importantly you should delateral on a day with blue skies and a gentle breeze. If it’s overcast it usually means the day is humid and humidity can cause infection in plants that have wounds exposed.
  • Start at the bottom of the plant and remove most of the lower leaves. Lift up and push down and the stems should snap off easily. You’re aiming to end up with 2-3 main laterals or branches, so identify 2-3 strong ones and remove the rest. New laterals will shoot off the main 2 or 3 and you need to keep removing these as the plant grows.
  • The reason we delateral tomato plants is to allow air movement which reduces the possibility of disease and it also means the sun can reach the fruits to ripen them up.
  • See here for more information on how to delateral tomatoes.
Feeding tomatoes
  • The liquid fertiliser we made two weeks ago has broken down sufficiently for us to apply to the tomato plants. It’s made from puha (sow thistle), ox tongue thistle, cleaver, chickweed, comfrey and grass clippings. See here for how to make summer liquid fertiliser.
  • Give it a good stir, then mix in a watering can with water so that it looks like the colour of weak tea. It has a horrible smell and if you get any on your skin, the best way to remove the smell from your skin is to run the back of a stainless steel spoon over the area.
  • Water the soil before applying the fertiliser to make sure the roots of the plants don’t burn. Then pour the mixture over the leaves and surrounding soil of the plants.
Checking potatoes
  • The potato plants are starting to flower which means new potatoes are forming. We should ideally wait until the tops die down before harvesting but if you can’t, then it’s possible to bandicoot some from the soil. Bandicooting means harvesting new potatoes that are near the surface of the plant, leaving the plant in situ to size up the potatoes that are deeper down.
  • Even though our plants are huge, we add a bit more compost to them which helps keep the soil cool and the potato plants like that.


Camera: Davian Lorson
Editor: Tom Dyton