Volume 14, Issue 20 ~ May 18 - May 24, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Tending Home-Grown Tomatoes and Peppers

Plant both in full sun, but don’t let your peppers bloom too soon

Sweet peppers and tomatoes have similar growth requirements of full sun and lots of nutrients. Both require abundant calcium, which you can satisfy by spreading your wood ashes or by adding dolomitic limestone (see Vol. xiv, No. 19: May 11).

Planting Tomatoes

Rumor has it that burying the stem of a tomato plant forces it to produce more roots, thus producing higher yields. If you’ve been advised to plant your tomatoes deep or to lay them sideways in a shallow trough, ignore the advice.

Research has demonstrated that tomato plants and all other annuals should be planted at the same depth of their existing root balls. When you plant too deep, you suffocate the original root system so that the plant must develop new roots along its stem to survive. Planting the stems in a shallow trough exposes half the roots to excessive drying.

If you purchased tomato plants in peat pots, tear away the top edge of each pot before planting. If the peat pot protrudes above ground, the exposed edge will wick water out of the soil and from around the root ball. If the roots of the tomato plants are not growing out through the walls of the peat pot, tear away the entire pot before planting. Why? If peat pots dry out before the roots penetrate the walls, the walls so harden that they become impervious to water and roots.

If you purchased tomato plants growing in cell packs or in pots, tear away some of the outer roots on each root ball before planting them in your garden.

Harvesting Peppers

You want firm, thick-walled peppers. Allowing the first set of flowers to set fruit will most likely stunt the plant early in their development, resulting in thin-walled peppers for the rest of the season. Inspect your pepper plants at least twice a week to remove those early flowers with your fingernails.

Peppers only turn from green to red or yellow when they approach maturity. Hasten coloration by harvesting the peppers as soon as 25 percent of the fruit has colored. Store the peppers in a paper bag with a red delicious apple or a very ripe, almost black banana at room temperature for a couple of days. Both red delicious apples and over-ripe bananas generate ethylene gas, which will hasten the ripening of peppers. Ripe peppers have a very different taste than green peppers. Much of the difference is due to sweetness.

If you want your pepper plants to produce abundantly, harvest as soon as peppers approach full size. Allowing the peppers to remain on the plants until you are ready to use them results in smaller peppers in succeeding harvest. Since peppers store well, they will keep fresh in the fridge. Peppers also freeze well. They do not have to be blanched. Simply cut them up in bite-size pieces and pack them into freezer bags.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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