This is growing nightshades at Level Zero for absolute beginner gardeners. The easiest to grow are the potatoes, and everyone wants tasty tomatoes too, so we start there. Let’s go.
STEP ONE: In Level Zero gardening,
we stick to the most basic methods and simple routines that can prepare the garden for anything we want to grow. Check them out here first.
(If you missed the introduction post to the Nightshade family, pls do take the time to meet them.)
a firm family favourite
seeds are not really level zero
Seedlings or larger are your friend
Plant deeply, burying some of the plant
we'll show you how to prune them
Step 1 is to choose which of two types of tomato you have/want. At the nursery, look at the tag – it will tell you more.
Determinate is a bushy type that naturally matures to a medium fixed height. It doesn’t need staking, minimum pruning, and fruits all in one main flush, making it great for harvesting at once – great for making sauce; great for pots and balconies
Indeterminate is a vine type that keeps growing up and up til the cold hits at the end of summer. It needs staking and pruning, to keep growth controlled, and fruits continuously over the whole season – great for using fresh over a long period. All of ours here at D&B are indeterminate.
In our Level Zero calendar, November (late Spring) is the month for tomatoes and other nightshades because the last reasonable chance of frost has passed. Nightshades and frost do not mix. That said, earlier in Spring is fine if you live in a frost free area. Growing seedlings in a glasshouse to get a jump on the season might be something to consider later, but it isn’t a Level Zero skill. You’d be best to buy a larger plant from the nursery if you want to save some time.
Nightshades love the sun, and good air flow. Grow in a part of the garden that gets direct sun for at least 8 hours a day, or disease and mildew will be an issue, and with about 40cm between plants. There are many different methods of supporting tomato plants and over the seasons, you will try them all, but for now, a simple stake next to each one (a hardwood stake or bamboo cane about 1800mm high) is sufficient to learn how they grow and harvest some nice fruit. We will show you how to tie and prune your tomatoes to maximise fruit and keep disease away as much as possible.
Tomatoes can be planted as seed, seedling or larger plants. We do all three here at different times (read more here) but for beginners, larger plants that you might buy at the nursery are the way to go. Plant deeply, since they can develop new roots from the main stem, which accesses more food, water and makes the plant stable in the ground. Dig a hole in a TRENCHED or COMPOSTED bed deep enough for the dirt to fill half way up the stem (even if that covers leaves, see the picture), with a tall hardwood or bamboo stake next to it. Fill in with soil, forming a dish shape to catch water. Watering has a few tricks to minimise the chance of disease. Will show some later but for now, water at the base and don’t wet the leaves.
the easiest nightshade to grow
use a 'seed' potato to get started
flowers appear and then you can take you time harvesting
''Bandicoot' spuds early whilst the plant is still powering along.
There are starchy potatoes and waxy potatoes. We haven’t found significant differences in growing them, but we aren’t spud experts. Choosing is just how you like to eat them. Here is a handy little video that explains the difference.
Potatoes need warm soil to get going, so late Spring is a great time, but if you are a bit later in summer, that’s fine too. A level-up skill for later is to ‘chit’ (sprout) your spuds before planting to get a jump on the season. That is for another time.
Use ‘seed’ potato that you can buy from a nursery to get going. These have been treated for some of the most common diseases, and will give you the best start at a great crop.
When the potato plant flowers, you know it is time to harvest, but don’t think you need to dig up the whole lot – bandicoot a few spuds early instead, as you need them. 😉
Like most other Level Zero veg, potato like a well-drained spot that has lots of organics in it from trenching that act as food for the plant over the 3 months plus that it will be in the ground. Like tomatoes, 40cm apart is the go.
Please plant potato AWAY from tomatoes (see below) and not where tomato was last year.
Give your seed potatoes the right idea by putting them out into the sun for a few days. It stimulates the right enzymes to let the spud know it’s time to grow.
Your new potatoes will grow as tubers off the stem that grows from the seed; stem grows up, tubers branch off. That means the seed spud is planted deep.
Dig a trench along the bed, about a spade depth. Seed goes down the bottom, covered by a little soil. Each week as it grows it’s little plant, keep filling in a bit more of the trench, encouraging it to keep growing up up up. You can fill in with just soil, a few inches at a time, or layer straw and soil so that at the end, it is easy to dig up your bounty. Super easy and no extras required if you have been trenching or adding compost to the bed for plant food. You can even use the same method in a pot on a balcony.
FOR EXTRA OOMPH, add a small handful of Blood and Bone on the top of the first soil layer. It has lots of the rich goodies that spuds love. Not vital, but helpful.
Here is a great story from ABC Gardening Australia about growing spuds in a trench. 👍
🍅💢🥔 Family tension
We know already that both potato and tomato are nightshades – cousins. Often, plants cousins can happily grow near each other so long as they are rotated next year to another place, but these two are both hungry for nutrients – the SAME nutrients – and will pillage the bed of everything quick-sticks, competing for every last bit. The result is weaker plants, open to diseases – the same diseases… it’s all bad.
Please keep tomato and potato plants apart and don’t plant either in the same bed each year.
Look wide, grow well, folks.