Vegetable Family: Solanaceae (The Nightshades)

The other day I wrote about crop rotation, it’s importance, and it’s benefit in the garden so today I thought we’d begin looking at the individual families of vegetables and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. Since it is probably the most popular family, because of one of its members (the tomato), we’ll start discussing the nightshade or solanaceae family.  Calling this family the nightshades makes them sound a little like some sort of super villain from the movies but no, we’re talking fruit and vegetables here.

The Solonaceae (Nightshade) Family

cherry tomatoesThe Solanaceae family has many of the most popular vegetables in home gardens.  Obviously there is the tomato which is probably the number one plant in the vegetable garden (remember it really is a fruit). There are also the peppers which are well loved by those who can take the heat and even those who can’t! Potatoes are also in this family which are grown for the tubers and not the fruit like other family members. This family also includes the tomatillos and eggplants.  All of these plants are in the nightshade/solanaceae family and thus are susceptible to the same diseases.  They also have many of the same nutrients needs.

The Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (an affiliate link to a great book!)
recommends preceding the solanaceae with a grain or grass crop and follow with legumes.  Legumes (like beans and peas) fix nitrogen back into the soil if they are allowed to decay and the remains are worked back into the soil.  Tomatoes are heavy feeders and will deplete the soil of the nutrients they use which makes the same location a poor on to replant the same crop in unless the soil is replenished with amendments.

Possible Diseases and Problems

There are no shortage of challenges with members of this family.  Diseases can frequently cross between these types of plants which makes rotating crops very important.  Many of these diseases can reside in the soil from season to season and the rotation of crops gives them time to diminish between plantings.

Here are some of the diseases and issues the nightshade family may have problems with:

  • Verticillium wilt 
  • Fusarium wilt
  • Early Blight
  • Late Blight
  • Blossom End Rot
  • Scab (on potatoes)
  • Tobacco Mosaic Virus (Yep, tobacco is a relative. And no, smoking does not count as a vegetable serving)
  • Nematodes (marigolds help deter them)
  • Insects: aphids, spider mites, hornworms, flea beetles, cutworms

This list is not complete but mentions a few of the more common pest and disease issues affecting tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and other members of the solonaceae family.

Is the tomato the number one plant in your vegetable garden?