Growing Potatoes, Tomatoes and Peppers with Psyllids!

Growing Potatoes, Tomatoes and Peppers with Psyllids!

by Kay Baxter and Scott Lawson

Many gardeners, and small and large commercial growers have lost entire potato crops and even old seed lines over the past couple of seasons. Scott Lawson (True Earth brand), well known for being New Zealand’s largest grower of organic potatoes, no longer grows potatoes commercially. He had to put all of his potato staff of 6 off, and he is focusing instead on researching ways to grow them with psyllids around.

Joseph Land, our main potato grower in the North, has not seen them yet in his garden, but not only must we be prepared, we must also put systems in place to ensure we can grow high quality potatoes with psyllids around in order to keep our potato collection alive and strong.

How are we going to maintain our precious heritage potato lines in the face of this pest? Scott Lawson has put together some notes for us about the psyllids that are taking out our potatoes and tomatoes, thanks heaps Scott!

What is a psyllid? The insect ‘TPP’ stands for ‘Tomato, Potato Psyllid’, the scientific name is Bactericera cockerelli, the adult is about 2-3mm long and resembles a tiny cicada. Mature adults have white strips on their backs. Both the early life cycle stages, nymphs, and the adults, are sucking feeders. The female adults lay up to 500 eggs over their lifetime; these eggs are laid on the edge of the leaf, attached by a short stalk, difficult to see with an untrained eye, a magnifying glass will help. In warmer areas a life cycle can be completed in 4 weeks, so this pest can very quickly build up to large numbers. The nymphs look like small scale insects, slow moving and living on the underside of the leaves. The psyllid spreads a bacteria called Liberibacter solanacearum. This, together with the sucking damage done to the plants, causes great losses in our tomato, potato and other solanaceous crops. This bacterium is not harmful to humans. The first visual sign of the pest on a potato crop are in October and November, with this being earlier in warmer parts of the upper North Island and perhaps after Christmas in the South Island. The psyllid overwinters on a wide range of plants, such as hawthorn, nightshade etc.

History of psyllid: It originated in Mexico and has spread up the western seaboard of the USA up to Oregon, but contained to the west of the Mississippi River. It arrived in Auckland in 2006, suspected to have been carried on imported capsicums or cut flowers, since then the sap sucking pest has wrecked havoc in the solanacea family of tomato, potato, tamarillos, capsicum and eggplant/aubergine. It has spread north from Auckland, and south arriving in Hawkes Bay 2008, and has been found as far south as Timaru. See trapping  data on

New Zealand has 5 species of native psyllid, none of which are known to affect crop production, only a trained eye under a microscope can tell the difference between species.

Effect on production in NZ: Prior to the arrival of the psyllid NZ enjoyed only a few difficult pests that affected the solanacea family, primarily this was 2 insect pests Heliothis zea, now known as Helicoverpa zea (common name is ‘tomato fruit worm’ in tomatoes and ‘corn ear worm’ in sweetcorn), and Phthorimaea operculella (common name is ‘tuber moth’ in potatoes).

NZ’s growers had developed good cultural and biological controls of these two pests, i.e. parasitic wasps had been released to target the tomato fruit worm, which was effective enough for many conventional growers not to have to use insecticides, sorry to see this has now changed with the arrival of this new pest, with most growers implementing a rigorous spray programme.

Many growers are exiting the industry because the extra costs spent on products to try to control the psyllid pests are not being recovered in market prices. Some organic growers have exited the industry due to inability to produce a marketable crop.

Symptoms: Both the early life cycle stages, nymphs, and the adults are sucking feeders. When feeding they inject saliva into the plants causing psyllid yellows. The plant growth is stunted and often in potatoes the first signs are curling leaves and purple coloured tips. As the plant continues to grow, many varieties of potatoes exhibit aerial tubers, and bulbing of the stems, also the crop tends to set high in the mould, close to the surface and small in size. The effect on the plant is variable between varieties and the time of the year. However yield loss of between 50 and 80% is common in main season potato crops. The balance of the crop produced is very much 2nd grade, often with internal defects affecting the cooking quality, and premature sprouting is something growers are noticing, not good for packed product on a shop shelf. After boiling the texture is often mushy with an earthy taste, not at all what an unaffected tuber will taste like. Commercial Potato Processors have rejected many hundreds of tons due to internal defects such as ‘zebra chip’ caused by Liberibacter, which when fried show dark zebra chip stripes. You can see this in fresh tubers as well, but not as pronounced as when it is fried.

Control Measures: Organic growers are very limited in options available. Biological control is some way off, with this area needing a lot more research, no known predator exists in NZ to offer suitable control.

Products: Entomopathogenic Fungi have been trialled, i.e. a fungi cultured in a lab and then applied to the crop to target the pest, this occurs naturally under the correct conditions and is often seen on brassicas crops infected with white butterfly. The issue is getting the fungi to develop and then attack the pest, variables of the amount of active fungi and low humidity can affect the efficacy of such a product. It is easier to use under a controlled environment indoors in glasshouses, where humidity can be controlled. Conventional growers are having some success with this range of products indoors.

Spraying oils such as the botanical based Eco-Oil can be tried, Neem Oils and Neem extracts such as Neem-Azal, which is a botanical insecticide have some effect as discouraging feeding. Another option to try is naturally derived diatomaceous earth which is 85% silicon dioxide, sold here in NZ to commercial growers as Insecta-Kill and repacked by Koanga Gardens for home gardeners as Psyllid Solution. None of the mentioned treatments work well under a high pressure (i.e.commercial situations, Kay) system.

Research: Plant and Food Research in conjunction with industry groups such as HortNZ, incl. PotatoesNZ and overseas with research facilities have initiated an industry wide collaborated approach. Potato growers are helping to fund the research through their levies and also through voluntary contributions. Potato processors, seed suppliers and marketers are all involved in trying to find an economic and environmental control solution.

These are my (Kay’s) strategies for dealing with Psyllids:

1. High Brix first, probably around 12. Insects will not see the potatoes as insect food, different vibration that they actually aren’t attracted to.

2. Grow your own seed potatoes and select the best croppers each year from the whole crop as explained in our 2010 July catalogue by Gail when describing Joseph’s potato growing techniques. See also under Seeds/seedplanting/solanaceae.

3. Plant your potatoes early to avoid the psyllid which only becomes active in warmer weather, i.e. plant your potatoes between mid-August and mid-September.

4. Use a combination of weekly sprays to keep psyllids away or to kill them, from the time the weather warms up, possibly Labour weekend on. I suggest Neem Oil fortnightly, and Psyllid Solution every other fortnight.

5. Good luck, we’re keen to hear your stories…

Dried Beans

Dried beans are a fabulous food to have in reserve for times when there is not so much around! You can find out more about growing beans for drying here and read on for a great recipe ...

Refried Beans

2 tbsp lard, tallow or coconut oil

1 Welsh Bunching onion or brown onion, chopped finely

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

fresh hot peppers, chopped or chilli powder or chilli sauce to taste


2 cups dried beans, cooked

500ml tomato or roasted tomato/pepper puree


sea salt to taste

1 bunch fresh cilantro (coriander) , chopped

Heat lard in heavy bottomed pan. Add garlic, onions then chilli and cook in oil for 5 minutes, stirring. Add beans and when hot right through use a hand potato masher and mash them as much as you like. Cook a little more, stirring so they don't stick, then add tomato puree and water if needed to achieve the desired consistency.

Simmer 10 minutes more on a very low heat, add sea salt if needed, and coriander, mix and turn off heat. Serve as is, stuff tortillas or use as a dip with corn chips.

This recipe is from Change of Heart by Kay Baxter

Porotos con Mazamorra is another great recipe involving dried beans 

Pest and disease free vegetables


Every year during the vege growing season we have people contact us about pest or disease issues with their crops.

If I took all the ideas and potential solutions out of all of my organic gardening books, they would fill pages and possibly even whole books. There is no shortage of ideas out there for getting rid of pests or even disease. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t and we never know why. 

For many years I tried all kinds of techniques like, spraying with copper for tomato and potato blight, spraying diatomaceous earth for  shield bugs ( stink bugs), I tried going out at night and picking off snails and slugs, planting corn further apart to avoid corn rust,  etc etc etc…. And now after 15 years of focusing on soil health those things are long lost in my memory. I haven’t done anything at all to get rid of a pest or disease in my home garden for 15 years, and Koanga almost never as well, over that same period. 

My understanding is that if we were making principle based decisions we should be able to achieve High BRIX food without major pest and disease issues, and our experience here at Koanga shows that to be true… and it doesn’t take 15 years before being able to throw away the sprays .. .

The process of making principled decisions requires some  education …. . The best book I have ever found  to understand  the principles involved and the steps to do this is Nourishment Home Grown. By A.E. Beddoe. This book however is a bit like doing another degree, too  much for many of us, but amazing and life changing for those who really want to get into it.

Koanga has made available to you through our Growing Nutrient Dense Food Workshop, our Growing Nutrient Dense Food Booklet and now our Growing Nutrient Dense Food online workshop, a brief version of the principles and the actions in the form of some theory around the ‘laws of nature’; and then a step by step process to support you to begin the journey towards growing nutrient dense food, which is essentially the same as the journey towards building living soil. 

When we are able to build soil containing lots of air, correct moisture levels, ( good drainage and water application) growing levels of humus, and high and balanced levels of minerals and microbes, the food we grow has a higher vibration than if it was grown in soils lacking some or any of the above. When a plant has a high vibration (BRIX of 12 or more) that plant is mostly made up with complex sugars. Insects and fungi can not digest complex sugars and they are also not attracted to these plants. Insects and fungi are attracted to plants with a lower vibration, signalling that they are made up of simple sugars, like ice cream to insects and fungi! 

For human health we need plants built on complex sugars. 

Our Growing Nutrient Dense Food Workshops here at Koanga and our Booklets and ReGen  On- line Workshops are designed to take you through how to  build  the kind of soil that grows highly functioning plants.

If we had amazing terra preta type soils and we didn’t need to be even concerned about soil quality , our vegetables  would just ask for whatever they needed via the soil microbes and fungi, and grow to their highest potential.

I’m afraid we simply just don’t have these soils, no matter how big our tantrums about that are, so it is usually helpful, when we are committed to building soil over time to make an effort to understand a little better all the time about “how plants grow’ and how we can best support that growth when we have less than ideal soils.

The first stage of  plant growth is germination…. All of the food for the emerging plant at this point comes from the seed. The quality of the seed  determines the quality of the seedling at this point… the best seeds are high BRIX grown heritage seeds who have the ability to fully  communicate with the life in the soil, a requirement for a plant reaching it’s potential, and something that can not happen with F1 hybrids, GE seeds, CMS seeds, gene edited seeds and seeds grown in the  presence of glyphosate..

Stage 2  of a seedlings growth is when the roots go down to stabilise a shoot to go up. The roots require alive microbially active soil  so they can build a bridge using root exudates, to feed the microbes so in turn the microbes can feed the plant. Ensuring you have alive seed raising mix is essential to either make your own or get a certified organic mix ( NO FUNGICIDES IN IT).  Daltons is best. I make mine with half compost half soil and usually also some vermicast… lots of life!. The more nutrients the plant can be fed by the microbes depends on how much root exudates are passed to the microbes, and they in turn are produced by the photosynthesizing leaves  in the presence of sunlight.

On day 1 of being able to see a  green leaf,  you will also be able to see the root exudates coming out of the roots. Up to this point the seed quality and the seed raising mix quality is critical.. I always add  a handful of Nature’s Garden fert if I’m using even organic commercial seed raising mix, simply not enough minerals in it to enable the seedlings to grow to their potential.

Pricking out must happen now before the roots get too big and all intertwined in each other and the damage separating them is too great for them to ever fully recover.

Pricking out must be done before the plant wants to do a huge growth spurt in both roots and tops above ground. For our seedlings to be able to do this growth spurt they need to have been pricked  out into an amazing living seed raising mix containing high levels of minerals and microbes , or your own mix. Able to fully support them with nutrients..

As soon as this first growth spurt has happened the seedling leaves will be touching and it is a critical time to transplant them into the garden. In order for them to continue growing without stopping, the soil must also be full of air, moist, containing high levels of humus/carbon, and high and balanced levels of minerals and microbes. Building this  is often a slow process, and can be done in many ways.  Using ramial wood chip, using compost, using fertilizer and biochar,  etc etec. I recommend getting soil tests done by BioServices , and carefully building your experience and learning. 

The more you can come to understand the patterns of a growing plant , the easier it becomes to make decisions that support the plant to grow to its potential rather than with all the good intentions in the world, doing things that hold it back or actually very often preventing it from reaching its potential.

In the meantime there are foliar sprays for supporting plant growth, foliar sprays for supporting fruit set and health, etc etc. Check out Environmental fertilisers range.

Other things I keep an eye on all the while I’m doing everything else is

  1. Watering, all plants get stressed if they do not have access to the after they need. Make your garden smaller if necessary to be able to supply the water (up to 5-10 litres per sq m per day over Summer)

  2. Focus on building carbon/humus via compost, biochar in compost, leaf mould,  ramial wood chip to maximise water retention,  minerals absorption, microbe homes

  3. Keeping as big a worm farm as possible so there is enough vermicast to use as fertilizer in seed trays and even garden beds at time.. Full of microbes, humates and nutrients creating ideal environment for plant roots

  4. Learn to make really great compost ( see the on- line making Great Compost Workshop), or The Art of Compost Booklet. .Of course we also teach that in our Biointensive and  Growing Nutrient Dense Food Workshops as well. 

  5. Hone your observation skills, all of your vege plants need to be kept growing at all times, if they stop it is because they are stressed in some way.. Figure out,  which way…. 

This is just a beginning really, there is a lot more to learn and experience, but know that Koanga exists to support you all to become regenerative gardeners and there are many ways we can do that.

Kay Baxter, August 2020

Potato Planting Suggestions

Upon receipt please open your package and the bags of potatoes. Traditionally potatoes are frost tender so plant after the last frost in early spring. Before planting 'chit' or sprout the potatoes. Chitting is the process of placing seed potatoes in a cool, but frost free, light but shady place to encourage strong sturdy shoots to grow before they are planted in the ground. They can be hung up in onion sacks in a dry but light, shady place under eaves or in a garage or shed to store them and then they can be laid out in a tray (egg cartons are useful) to sprout, again in a light but shady place. The aim is to have a small number of shoots, not masses of sprouts. If the shoots are very long they can still be successful but are harder to plant without damage so short, sturdy shoots are best. If you have too many shoots you can rub some off.

After sprouting large potatoes can be cut into sections about 2" wide. Each piece should have at least two buds. After cutting the potatoes, let them sit at room temperature for two or three days for the cuts to seal.

Potatoes are best planted into a trench. We dig two trenches along a garden bed and put a layer of soil amendments at the bottom of each trench. Good compost or well rotted manure along with seaweed, wilted comfrey leaves, Natures Garden and Active Calcium are good additions to the trench. Position the seed potatoes at approximately 25 cm spacings along the trench before filling it in. Once the tops of the plants have emerged mound up the soil around each plant so that there are now two ridges running along the bed. As they grow bigger mound up again. An alternative method is to mulch the bed and then mulch again once the plants have grown up through the first layer of mulch. Or the plants could be earthed up once and then mulched as they grow bigger.

Keep an eye on the plants as they grow. Occasionally plants will have all crinkly leaves which is a sign of virus. These plants are best removed and certainly should not be used for seed potatoes. A fairly recent problem for potato growing in New Zealand is the Tomato, Potato Psyllid. These small insects are sucking feeders that reduce crop size. Plant growth is stunted with curling leaves often with purple tips and aerial tubers forming. If you experience reduced crop size due to psyllids then best plant as early as possible to avoid the psyllid which only becomes active in warmer weather. Those with short seasons may need to resort to planting before the last frost (we plant in mid September and frequently have frosts until late November), and plan on having frost cloth and hoops over the potatoes until you are sure there will be no more frosts. It is often easy enough to keep hilling them top until November some time but after that they will need covering. A hard frost will get the tops through frost cloth if it is sitting on the leaves. It is best to place the frost cloth on hoops over the potatoes. If you can the potatoes will do better if planted in August.

Koanga sells Psyllid Solution, a very finely ground form of diatomaceous earth which if applied regularly using a back pack sprayer (weekly) is very effective at keeping the psyllid off the tomatoes and potatoes and peppers.

Early varieties are ready to harvest when the flowers are fully open, and later varieties once the foliage has died down. See the Koanga website for more details on growing potatoes including ways of feeding them 

Using a hot box for starting seeds early

Up here in the Hokianga we don't have really cold temperatures to deal with (in fact we often have maybe one or two light frosts over winter, or often none at all).

At the end of winter the weather is really changeable – hot and sunny enough some days for us to be removing clothing layers and feeling like we should be getting our sun hats on, very wet some days and some quite cold nights. Even though its relatively mild some things still need a help to get away early and I have a different system for starting seeds than Kay.

We have a hooped tunnel house that we never got round to putting the ends on - once the tunnel house was up and functional the ends dropped off our 'to do' list. It provides shelter and some warmth but not enough to get some things started early in the season.


Inside the tunnel house I had John build a hot box. Its made of macrocarpa and is about 1.2 by 1m and about 50 cms in height. Its up off the floor on legs and has a wooden base. Resting on the base and angled forwards is a piece of roofing tin – I'll explain its purpose in a moment. In late July we collect horse manure and John scythes some grass and we build up layers in the hot box – manure, grass, manure, grass and then potting mix on top. I cover the whole thing with plastic using two cloche hoops pushed into the organic material in the box. The plastic I used for  finally shredded this year so I got a new piece – a recycled plastic wrapping from a double mattress from a local furniture store. Its a perfect size, cost me $2 and I kept it doubled for extra heat.

Hot box

The way it works is simple – the manure and grass clippings start to compost down and in doing so produce heat from underneath and the plastic cover keeps that heat in – even first thing in the morning the air under the cover is appreciably warmer than outside it.

It's a great place to start seedlings off – some things, such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplants that really benefit from the direct bottom heat are sown straight into the potting mix while others that are easier to germinate (e.g. Red Kuri pumpkins) are sown in seed trays that are just placed inside the hot box.

We're coming into a really busy time now and I like to get some things started quickly to get ahead for later in the season. We grow Jimmy Nardello peppers and like to get them producing as early in the season as possible so start them off in the hot box. They are beautiful, elongated red sweet peppers that visitors usually mistake for chilli peppers because of their shape and colour. Once they are producing we eat them most days in a variety of ways but I think they are best just roasted. Up here in the north we have the added bonus of a prolonged season and they don't stop producing until late June or into July.

Our tomatoes are also sown in the hot box to get them away early – we like to grow a range of colours and shapes. One of our regulars is Alma a red, egg shaped tomato that is very disease resistant and great for eating, cooking or drying. In fact a big winter treat is to use the dried Almas that we store in olive oil. When I first thought about storing dried tomatoes in olive oil it seemed extravagant because of the use of the oil but, of course, it isn't because once the tomatoes are eaten we still have a lot of the yummy tomato flavoured oil to use in salad dressings.  We also grow Black Cherry good for eating fresh or cooking, Oxheart which we mainly use for cooking, Island Bay which is a beefsteak which does very well here and is great for all uses and Broad Ripple Yellow Currant which is great in handfuls in salad and always a favourite with children (and adults!) to browse in the garden. Eggplants grow really well up here and again its good to get them going early so I start them in the hot box too. We've tried several varieties and love them all so grow a different one each year. We usually grow Tsakoniki which are great. They have stripey red/violet skin and non-bitter flesh but we also like Florence Round Purple which are very dark skinned and look and taste amazing.

The hot box will really start to fill up at the end of August. We grow Long Green Bush Marrow successionally over the season and the first ones will be sown after the new moon. We really like this variety as it produces great tasting courgettes but also very tasty marrows if you let them grow large. I think marrows are a very underrated vegetable. These ones have great flavour and are good for stuffing. They even keep quite well and will last well into the winter. We will sow our Red Kuri pumpkins at the same time as the marrows. These are a fantastic summer squash and are usually ready to eat by late December. They are very productive and great roasted, steamed or as soup and can be eaten skin and all. We sow our other pumpkin a month later and that won't need the hot box. We grow Cupola, a beautiful large butternut that is a great keeper. The combination of the two pumpkins is great – we usually still have Cupola left in late December when the Red Kuri start and then by the time the Red Kuri finish around May we can start eating Cupola again.

Once the seeds are sown in the hot box they need occasional watering. Any surplus water filters down through the layers, flows along the roofing tin into a piece of guttering which directs it to a pipe which exits the box vertically. I keep a bucket under that which collects the nutrient rich water for use as a liquid feed.

I'm really pleased with it as a system. It gets the seeds germinating early and up here I only really need it for August and September, by October everything germinates just fine in the tunnel house.

So for the rest of the year I use it for growing root ginger – its perfect for that. I've found that the ginger for planting stores best in trays in potting mix in the tunnel house as then it doesn't dry out too much. Once the hot box is no longer needed for seeds I plant the ginger into the box, without the plastic cover as it doesn't need that. The ginger needs the warmth provided by the tunnel house and the nutrient rich matter in the box is perfect. It requires quite a bit of watering so the nutrient recycling by catching the water is great. The other thing ginger needs is to not be in intense sunlight – our tunnel house plastic is partially UV protected and gives some shade so it thrives in there. Its harvested in the winter when the foliage dies down – perfect timing to get the hot box ready for the seeds again.

You can find out more about growing ginger here




Kay’s Garden Reflections – June 2019

So my winter garden is all in, I’m putting all the perennial beds to rest now, asparagus, globe artichokes, day lilies, welsh bunching onions , seakale, and then my focus will be in the forest garden for a while, 3 months probably.. and then the wheel turns and we’re back in the garden.

My biggest insights in the vege garden this year were

  • After 7 years in this garden with a huge focus on building soil, I have reached a new level of life and resilience and self reliance. My compost is really growing my food, and I did not even have to fork or U bar many of my beds when I planted my winter crops, they were still well aerated and I simply added compost, forked that into the top 5cm and transplanted winter seedlings.. big progress.. finally my brassicas look amazing..

  • I’m starting to get a good feel for the number of plants and areas I need to put in to get enough of that crop to last us the whole year without needing to buy food or go without what we consider to be essential things ie potatoes, tomato paste, fermented chilli sauce, onions, pumpkins

  • I’m beginning to feel I could maybe shift the balance back a little to more food crops rather than so much nutrient/carbon crops. We had taken 40 sq m out of our vege garden just to grow alfalfa to add to compost and mulch crops with, on top of already having 20sq m in alfalfa outside the garden. This Spring we will begin putting some of those beds into three crops we still buy that we would like to be self-sufficient in. Austrian hullless pumpkin seeds,  flaxseed, and Dalmatian peas. We’ve always grown Essene flax seed but 10 sq m is not enough to be able to eat it every day with breakfast which we love to do. I’m going to add another 10 sq m back to this crop.  Austrian hulless pumpkin seeds are also a basic here and we find we need 20 sq m of them in a place they can travel to get enough seed to last us several meals a week all year. Finally I’d like to be able to grow a crop that we can easily make hummus with. Our trials last year with both Dalmatian peas and tarwi show that they both produce enough seeds to make these crops worthwhile, and I’d like to try the peas.( trials showed 1x 10 sq m bed of each crop produced enough dry seed to make 1 meal each week of the year for 2 people )  I love dried peas. That would bring our garden back  to 200 sq m or 100 sq m person, with generous amounts to share with others, which is where we started!.. still practicing 50% of the garden all year round or more in carbon crops.

  • Because I’m lucky enough to have meat scraps from Taiamai’s butchery to feed my chickens, I don’t need flour corn for them (they are laying better than they ever did and taking less time to moult than they ever did by far on meat scraps), and we’re finding that 50 sq m of flour corn, produces more corn than we can eat in one year. We use it mainly for tortillas, and posole, and corn cakes, and corn bread, but although we need to grow 50 sq m to have the numbers to  keep the seed strong, and it is a very important carbon crop for our compost, it will last for two years for us to eat so next Spring I think I’ll try growing a serious popcorn crop instead. It is always a great snack food for adults children, and I’m sure 50 sq m of that will also last at least 2 years for eating.

The Solar Dryer


As part of our Appropriate Technology course we made a solar dryer to harness the sun’s energy for  drying and preserving some of our excess fruit and vegetables so we can eat them throughout the year.
The basic design is a radiant heat solar dryer. It is a really easy design, but works really effectively.
Basically there is a layer of glass that is propped up on a timber frame, and two layers of corrugate iron.  The sun shines through the clear glass at the top of the dryer which then hits the black painted corrugate iron that heats up the metal.

drid toms

The heat from the underside of the metal then heats the food below in a stainless mesh tray, causing  it to lose moisture and dry.  The moisture leaving the food flows out under the screen and up the sloped air channels. The cool air comes through the corrugate troughs and draws the hot air and moisture out leaving behind tasty dried food.
You can dry all sorts of fruit and vegetables. Depending on the size of the fruit and amount of sun, the drying process can happen in a day or two.  It would be advised to put the produce in on a sunny day and to cut it quite thinly.  As you can see in the photo above, we have wild blackberries, alma tomatoes (which are specific for drying), elderberries and peaches.

solar group

We have made a large solar dryer to suit the community, but you could build a much smaller one for home use out of pallets, for example.

Here is our design draft:

Solar drier sketch

Growing Tips for Solanaceae



The Henry Doubleday Association in England years ago did a lot of research on growing potatoes, and they concluded that there were two key things to the biggest crops; firstly planting onto comfrey leaves, ( ie a great range of balanced minerals) and secondly using seed potatoes that had 20cm long shoots before they are planted!!! I store my seed potatoes in an onion sack hanging from the veranda roof to let the light get at them and stop them from sprouting early. They do eventually sprout with sturdy thick sprouts like this, but they will not get long and lanky. If you want to obtain the long shoots, they will have to be put into trays in a dark place for a few weeks prior to planting but the disadvantage is that they break easily so we prefer shorter sturdy sprouts.


Because of the risk of the psyllid in NZ at this time it is best to plant potatoes early to avoid the problems or the need to maintain a biological spray program to keep them from damaging the crop. Ideal time to plant potatoes is August or early September.

Potatoes need high quality high nutrient levels to maintain and improve their health and productivity. The days of being able to grow healthy crops of high quality potatoes went out along with the minerals over the past 10 years.

If your potatoes are well fed and well hilled up or mulched, you should expect top get from 3-5 kilos from every potato that you planted!

We are running a potato trial here at Koanga with the aim of improving the health and productivity of our heritage potatoes which have been in decline in recent years. This is what we are doing with excellent results so far click here to see trial results

The fertiliser program is as follows:

  1. Soak potatoes in compost tea for 12 hours then place in a bag with Koanga:Seedling Inoculant and shake to lightly cover potatoes with inoculant.

  2. Prepare your potato trenches and apply to each meter of trench: 400g of EF:Nature’s Garden (fertiliser mix containing a wide range of nutrients balanced according to the principles of Dr Carey Reams) 200g of EF:Active Calcium (lime that has been composted with a carbon source to hold the calcium in the root zone), 200g of biochar.

  3. Plant potatoes, cover them, then water with liquid biochar.

  4. Spray fortnightly once they emerge with compost tea and on the in between weeks with EF:VegeFoliar three times, then change to EF:Fruit Foliar.

With the help of a 1935 NZ Department of Agriculture Potato Growers booklet (142!) we kept a careful eye on each potato plant as they emerged and rogued (removed) almost all (couldn’t bear to remove everything, that would mean losing a line!) plants that appeared with crinkly leaves and or yellow blotches on the leaves. We also removed all plants that looked spindly and weak, compared to others. Some cultivars were noticeably weaker than others and we decided not to remove all plants where an entire line looked weak. We rogued the entire patch three times in the first three months of growth, finally just before flowers opened.

Once the flowers were open there was a marked increase in insect activity, with the insects potentially become disease vectors, so the aim of the rogueing is to remove all diseased plants before the insects come in and spread the disease.

We used our Koanga BioPesticide (entirely composed of beneficial microbes and fungi) to keep psyllids to a minimum and are very excited about the potential of this new product.

We also received information from Scott Lawson showing that a trial in the USA showed that erecting a black shade cloth fence around the potato patch works to keep out over 90% of psyllids as well.

We used our refractometer to test regularly before and after spraying to make sure we were actually doing what the plants needed, and we raised the brix of the potatoes to around 14 which is relatively high for potatoes.

At harvest we dug each plant separately, and weighed the tubers from each plant.

We selected our mother seed from the best tubers from the best producing plants from each cultivar, from the plants left after the rogueing.

Growing Tips for tomatoes,


Tomatoes are always a challenge if you want to do it organically, especially if you want to do it without copper sprays! This is the program we’ve developed over the years:

This program seems extreme and time consuming,. The reality is we have heavily demineralised soils and tomatoes will not do well in anything but a rich highly mineralised and microbially live soil. This is our way to bring back those conditions. Once you have high brix crops and high quality compost you will be able to stop all the foliar sprays and extra activity!!!


Plant tomato seed at optimum time, Prick out 1 week later into trays or pots at least 7-9cm deep, at 3cm spacings. Transplant after last frost!!!

* Prepare beds by clearing out compost crops, double digging and incorporating 2cm  compost into top 5cm of soil. Unless you have exceptional soil, and your own home made high quality compost , we recommend you add  EF:Nature’sGarden and EF:NanoCal into the soil with the compost.

* Put the tomato poles into the beds (2 rows) with plants at 50cm diagonal spacings, and mulch the beds. At this time of the year you should be able to use scythed grass from the orchard.

* Plant tomatoes out close to the tomato poles.

* Water the tomato plants with EF:FishPlus after  transplanting them into beds.

* We find a weekly foliar spray with EF:Growth Foliar alternating with compost tea helps tomatoes a lot with a change to EF:Fruit Foliar  every time you want them to flower and set fruit again.

* Tomatoes are best watered by drip irrigation so as to keep the leaves as dry as possible. They have evolved in a dry arid climate and hate humidity. Seed that has been in New Zealand for generation and has been selected fir its ability to survive in our humid climate do far far better than imported heritage seed.

* Plant lots of basil around tomatoes.

Weekly Programme From Now On

Many people ask me why we have to delateral our tomatoes, they obviously were not created with a delateraler in place, so why now? This a really valid question that I have asked myself many times. The only answer I have come up with is that tomatoes evolved in a low humidity climate (highland central America). In places around the world, like Australia, California and even Seed Savers in Iowa, they have low humidity climates too and they grow them without the need to delateral. I have seen that many times, and there has been much research showing that delateraling lessens the crop, which also comes later. However - if you try here, you will probably find as I did, that you get blight really badly and you lose the whole plant, and do not get a crop at all. Basically tomatoes are not suited to our climate. If we want to have them as part of our diet we have to adapt, as we have - and it works well enough to be able to take huge crops off the plants and roast and bottle and dry, and make sauce and soup and eat the delicious  products all year round!! So.... take a deep breath and...


* delateral and tie up only on a sunny, windy, dry day, never a humid, still or wet day.

* delateral by bending out the very small laterals with clean fingers, this leaves far less chance for disease to enter the plant than if you’re having to break or cut large laterals.

* once the first tomatoes begin sizing up, weekly liquid feed with 90% liquid comfrey and 10% vermicast (ideal nutrient mix for tomatoes, and the vermicast provides the humates to hold the minerals in the comfrey in the root zone for the plant roots)


  • a 10% raw milk spray is great to prevent and stop blight

  • once tomatoes begin ripening, we cut any black diseased looking leaves away from under the bunch of tomatoes currently being picked, with secateurs, sterilised in meths between each plant!

  • Foliar applications of Koanga Psyllid solution and or Koanga Biopesticide will be necessary in many areas to prevent the psyllid damage so common now.

  • If you are still struggling with shield bugs over summer because of drought, lack of water or minerals you may find it helpful to plant ‘catch’ crops

One of the real keys for us is making sure the cleome is flowering at the right time. One season we thought we’d be smart and as we knew that it always self seeds and comes up by itself we thought we wouldn’t bother planting any seed ourselves. Sure it came up by itself, but it came up several weeks later than if we’d planted it and it wasn’t flowering when the 2nd generation of shied bugs hatched. The shield bugs hit the cleome, and as the plants were still small, they completely sucked all the sap from them and virtually killed them all and then made their way over to the tomatoes. The cleome actually came to life again after the shield bugs had all gone into hibernation again in the Autumn.

Porotos con Mazamorra (Beans, corn and pumpkin)

This recipe is from a book called “Food out of Chile” written by a Chilean couple forced to flee to England from Chile in the 1970’s following Pinochet’s coup and the death of Allende.

They describe this as a traditional Chilean dish. This is our adaptation of their recipe – it’s a great dish which uses things that are easy to grow here, good food for self-reliance and really tasty.

Dried beans – soaked and cooked until soft

Corn – nixtamalized (see details here) and ground




2 cloves garlic


Chilli (optional)

Remove pumpkin skin, chop pumpkin into pieces, add to the already cooked beans and then simmer until soft. Mash pumpkin and some of the beans.

Heat oil in thick bottomed frying pan, and fry onion and garlic. Add pepper or chilli as desired.

Add the ground corn to the pan and cook slowly, stirring frequently.

Add the pumpkin and bean mixture to the corn.

Add fresh basil and cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve with tomato sauce or salsa. Is a bit like re-fried beans in texture and is particularly good with guacamole, cheese and stir fried vegetables with corn chips or tortillas.



Corn Fritters

An added bonus is that leftovers are perfect for making corn fritters.

Add some chopped feta cheese into the mix and shape into fritters.

Fry in coconut oil or similar and serve with salad or vegetables and a tomato sauce.