Late Spring, ‘after Melbourne Cup day’ is a well known time to plant members of the Nightshade family. These are the tasty meditaranian flavours we love so much – tomato, capsicum, chilli… We are planting ours too, so I will show you all how to make a start in the coming week. For now, let’s meet them. Strap in, this is a long one, but it’s all good stuff 👍

🌿 Some of this family contain strong, even toxic alkaloids, but the ones we normally grow as vegetables are totally fine.
🌿 Some grow as vines and others as bushes.
🌿 Fun fact: You may not know that Tobacco and Petunias are also in this family.
⚠️Non-fruit green parts of nighshade plants are NOT EDIBLE, with exception of the potato tuber, so long as it is not green. Never eat potatoes that have turned green.
🌿For absolute beginners, this family grows very well from seedling or small grafted plant in the ground or a pot.

These vegies are in the Solanaceae family.  They are so useful in cooking, and can be roasted, steamed, stewed, eaten in salads, sandwiches, on platters and so many tasty treats. Pick one you like and learn about growing them from there. There is a nightshade to suit every cuisine.

🍅Top Tip 1: Nightshades love to be planted deeply

Nightshades are opportunists, and make the most of every chance to grow strong roots. They even have little bumps on their stems, pre-roots, that are primed ready if the plant falls over, to make contact with the ground and grow right there.  We make the most of this by planting them deeply, up high on their stems with just a third or so out the top. This is an advantage of planting from seedling or grow-pots, if you grow from seed, be prepared to add soil as they grow. Deep in a hole is good but if your place can still get cold, you might try on their side in a short trench which brings the stem closer to the surface warmed by the sun.  If your nightshades grow leggy and weak, they might not be planted deep enough and so dont have enough food or stability. 

planting a tomato

🍅 Top Tip 2: Nightshades are ‘buzz’ pollinated 

Australian Blue banded bee

Our very buzzy native bees like this blue-banded are the ideal pollinator, but the wind will work fine too.

By ‘buzz’, we mean vibration, which is best done by buzzy bees of course, but regular honeybees don’t buzz with much oomph, and besides, the flowers have pollen but no nectar, so not much to attract them. The bees used overseas are mostly vibrating bumblebees, but we don’t have them on mainland Australia. We DO have native bees though, which buzz at more than 100 times the rate of bumblebees. If you have bluebandeds, carpenters and teddybear bees at your place – happy days!! More on that another time. Luckily, shaking by wind also works where there are enough flowers in close proximity, so planting your nightshades near each other in a group, outside, is the best strategy. Nightshades grown in hothouses need other strategies – shaking machines, shaking by hand, even tuning forks!

The Solanaceae family that are cultivated by humans are mostly herbaceous climbers, or perennial bushes. All entomophilous pollination, across a variety of monoecious, andromonoecious and dioecious flowers. Solanaceae are known for having a diverse range of alkaloids in their stems and roots, ranging in toxicity, bitter and affecting to animals, designed to make them unpalatable. 

{psst} To attract native bees, purple, blue and white flowers for pollinators are great, teatrees and wattles too.  – come for the flowers, stay for the tomatoes.

Look wide; grow well, folks 🌿