When growing organically there are three key practices which ensure optimal growth:
– prepare soil for the requirements of the specific plants you’re growing
– plant at the time of the year that suits the plants best
– if possible, plant according to the moon phase
Another important practice in organic gardening is crop rotation. Eggplants, peppers and chillis are members of the solanum family, as tomatoes are, so we wouldn’t plant them in a bed this year that had tomatoes in it last year. Tomatoes take certain nutrients out of the soil and can also have certain diseases like blight, which means the soil is depleted of the nutrients that eggplants, peppers and chillis also like and the soil could spread any diseases it’s harboured from the tomato-growing period. The ideal situation is not to plant vegetables from the same family in the one bed for a period of three years.
Eggplants, peppers and chillis like it hot, so we’ve waited until mid to late November to plant them out.
This family of plants needs all-day sun. Rob’s garden has black weed matting and concrete post edging which attracts and keeps the heat in. Gardens with gravel and shell paths will be similarly effective. If you don’t have these features in your garden, fill up plastic bottles with water and place around the plants. They heat up during the day and release their warmth overnight. Rocks will have the same effect.
Rob plants Asian eggplants, the longer tear-drop type which have a darker leaf and stem, and the European ones which are round and more common. Plant about 50 cms apart. Eggplants will grow to about one metre tall and because of the weight of the fruit they will ultimately need staking, as will the peppers.
There are many varieties of peppers including Bull’s Horn types like Marconi Red which are long and tapered, then the more common bell pepper varieties which are green, red and yellow. The Bull’s Horn varieties bear more prolifically and are ready 2-3 weeks earlier than the bell pepper varieties. Plant about 40 cms apart.
Rob plants Jalapeno chilli (which he rates 4/10 for heat) which are nice and crunchy and go well in Mexican food; Anaheim chilli (2/10) are great for stuffing and can be used in salads; and Bird’s Eye (6/10) which work well in Thai food, and they dry and freeze well so can be used during winter. When it gets warmer Rob will plant hotter varieties like Habanero, Bhut Jolokia and Trinidad Scorpion.
We recommend planting bee-attracting flowers like borage and poppies. Being part of the tomato or solanum family, the best companion plants are basil and marigolds.
Rob also plants Tomatillos which grow like an eggplant, have a tomato-like fruit encased in a shell like a cape gooseberry and taste like a green tomato. They go well in salsas for Mexican cooking. Unlike the rest of the solanum family, they are not self-fertile and you have to grow more than one for them to pollinate.
Lastly Rob plants Okra, which is not a member of the solanum family, but loves the same warm conditions. Okra belongs to the hibiscus family and the small hibiscus flower is wonderful for attracting bees.
Apply rock dust around the plants. Rock dust is high in calcium with gypsum as one of its contents. Calcium encourages good cell structure and inhibits blossom end rot which these plants are prone to. Don’t use lime for calcium however as that will alkalanise the soil, and the solanum family like a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
We finish off the bed with the addition of well-rotted chicken manure. This provides a good nitrogen boost for the plants and gets them off to a good start. Sheep pellets or cow manure will do the same job.
Ultimately we’ll mulch this bed to keep heat and moisture levels even throughout the growing period. But we have to wait until the soil heats up more before covering it, otherwise the mulch will inhibit the raising of the soil temperature.