Grouping together plants with similar physical attributes is a long-standing and helpful tool when it comes to identifying individual specimens.
However, it does not follow that they all share the same behavioural traits, and the solanaceae family is typical of this. It includes two plants that most serious vegetable gardeners will just be starting to harvest – the potato (solanum tuberosum) and tomato (lycopersicon esculentum).
Potatoes are a dream to cultivate, whether you raise them in bags, containers or the garden.
Offer a decent growing medium, make sure it’s never allowed to dry out, and they will do the rest.
If you grow early varieties, as I do, it brings two main advantages – there is less chance of fungal disease affecting foliage and land is freed up quicker for winter brassica crops.
In practice, the airborne blight spores arrive from the south just as we are digging the early crop. We dug our first red Duke of York spuds up last week, and they are delicious.
Tomatoes are growing well this year, considering the late start.
My first three plants of gardeners’ delight from my friend Tony came in mid-May and are almost ready to stop by pinching out the growing tip.
Five trusses have formed, and that’s enough to ask of the plants. Feeding began when the lowest fruits reached finger-nail size and continues on a weekly basis.
The remaining varieties were planted near the end of May, but are rapidly catching up. The plants grow in large pots of compost, standing on an organic-rich greenhouse border, which also received a dusting of fish, blood and bone fertiliser. Tomatoes need daily attention.
Good ventilation allows a constant flow of air that lowers the risk of mildew and mould.
There’s also regular watering and the constant removal of side-shoots. When the foliage becomes too dense, don’t be afraid to cut off some of the large lower leaves at a point close to the main stem with a sharp knife. My long-standing acquaintance James, who has grown tomatoes successfully over three decades, was sharing the secret of his home-made compost with me last week.
He encourages the plants to develop two sets of roots, one in the pots and the other in the border, as I do, and the potting mixture comprises molehills, peat and the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag, which, as he points out, is rich in minerals.
Another member of the solanaceae group is grown in pots on the greenhouse bench.
The aubergine or eggplant is flowering now, and with controlled watering, it will eventually offer fruits, but we must ensure they are fully ripened before collecting them for the kitchen.
But beware, there are some downright poisonous plants in this large family group.
Angel’s trumpets (brugmansia), henbane (hyocyamus), deadly nightshade (atropa belladonna), tobacco (nicotiana) and Harry Potter’s mandrake (mandragora) all belong to the same clan as the humble spud.