Growing tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chilli peppers in the organic garden in Andalucia
It is early in the year yet already the days, and nights, are becoming warmer, a foretaste of the summer to come. May is the month to plant all those summer vegetables that are best grown in greenhouses in the UK. For those with a patio and no garden, the good news is that they can all be grown in pots.
These summer fruiting plants will be asked to grow quickly and produce lots of fruit. To do that they must be in soil that contains copious quantities of compost and they must receive enough water.
Tomatoes are synonymous with summer. There are two types, determinate (bush) and indeterminate (vining). The bush tomatoes should not be pruned; they stop growing naturally when the fruit sets on the top bud. The fruit tends to ripen at the same time. They are ideal for a patio pot. The vining type can grow to 4 metres tall and need strong staking. Vining tomatoes continue to flower and set fruit until November or December. The difference between the two types is determined by the growth habit, not the variety of tomato they produce. So, you can get cherry tomatoes as a bush or vine, Romas as vine or bush. Most of the popular and heirloom tomatoes, like beefsteak and Alicante, are vine types. There are as many opinions about how to grow tomatoes as there are tomato varieties, about 15,000 worldwide. Prune or not to prune, that is the big question. Bush tomatoes require no pruning; in fact, pruning is detrimental. The side shoots of vine tomatoes are traditionally removed to leave a single strong stem with fruiting clusters growing from it. However, there is an argument that, here in Andalucia, you should not prune because the leaves shade the fruit from the fierce sun. I have tried both methods and have not detected any loss of flavour or bounty if I do not prune. Whether you nip out side shoots or not you do have to be rigorous with your staking, especially if your garden has strong winds.
Peppers should also be planted this month. I find it best to buy the plants because I cannot replicate the conditions needed for successful germination of seed.
You will see three types of pepper, bell peppers, in shades of red, yellow and orange, sweet flavoured with crisp flesh, ideal for salads and stuffing, Italian peppers are the long red peppers, sweet and best used for stuffing and pickling, and the green and black Spanish Padron peppers, best used for cooking. All the peppers start off green and can be picked at that stage or left to ripen. Then you have pimientos picantes, the chilli peppers.
Chilli peppers are the same family as sweet peppers; they are just hot. Jalapenos are common and are very hit and miss as regards heat. The longer they are on the plant, the hotter they will become, usually. Some, even from the same plant, can be tongue-numbingly hot while others can be as mild as a Padron. For consistent heat buy named varieties.
Cayenne peppers produce masses of fruit and are mid-range in heat whilst Scotch bonnets, bird’s eye and Habaneros varieties are fearsome. If you grow different varieties along with sweet peppers, in the same plot, they can cross-pollinate, with results that can only be described as interesting.
Aubergines ripen late in summer through to Christmas. In the UK, in a greenhouse, you can expect perhaps a dozen aubergines per plant. In Andalucia we are more fortunate. If you give the plants a good start you can expect scores per plant. The traditional purple eggplants are great but you can also get white aubergines and purple and white striped. Look out for the round, Italian, Rosa Bianca aubergine. They are smaller than the traditional ones but much tastier.
Why, in an article about summer fruiting crops have we a picture of an amaryllis? Gardening in Andalucia is all about being flexible. Some years ago, Julie bought me an amaryllis bulb for Christmas. It was sat in a vase with just its roots in water and produced one stunning flower. After the leaves had died back, I transplanted the bulb to a patch in my allotment where for years it produced first two flowers, then three each year. In September 2020 I transplanted it from the Costa del Sol to Almeria where it is now in the mixed herb, bulb bed. Only time will tell if it has survived what I hope is its last transplant.