Nightshades

Eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes (as well as husk tomatoes, ground cherries, and tomatillos) are all related. They're members of the big nightshade family (Solanaceae) and are also called "solanums." (I talk about potatoes and huckleberry, which are nightshades too, elsewhere in this book.) Martynia and okra are not solanums but are grown and bear fruit so similarly, and are so different from other plants, that I squeezed them in here too.

General Info on Raising Solanums: Eggplant, okra, peppers, and tomatoes share the same basic nature: All are tropical natives grown as annuals in the temperate zone. All refuse to germinate unless their ground is warm, grow slowly in cool weather, and may be badly and permanently stunted by exposure to a temperature below 45°F, so they're often protected by a cloche for the first part of their garden time. All take a long time to bear fruit, so northern growers must start them indoors. All do best of all when soil and air temperatures stay very warm. Try out species and varieties until you find the one that suits your climate and cooking best. But there is one group of nightshades that is easy to grow: the Physalis group (ground cherries and tomatillos). See "Planting" in the "Tomato" section for much more info on starting nightshades.

Soil. A good soil combination is 1 part each peat, sand, and garden dirt. If you are worried about disease or bug prob lems in the dirt, sterilize it in the oven at 180°F for 45 minutes. Put your seedbed dirt into shallow boxes, small growing pots, or big tin cans with drainage holes in the bottom. The dirt should come up to about lA inch below the rim of the container. (See "Planting" in the "Tomatoes" section for more information useful for planting any nightshade.) About 2 hours before planting, moisten your seedbed dirt well. Then plant, and let them grow. They'll do best in a really warm place, such as near your furnace. Water as needed. Before transplanting them to the garden, harden them off. Hardening Off. Most nightshades, especially peppers and eggplant, should be "hardened off' before transplanting from house to garden. Start 10 days before they will be set out by taking them outside on warm days, bringing them in each night. Leave them outside (unless the weather gets unseasonably cold) the last 2 or 3 nights. Then plant them in the garden—in the evening if possible. Make sure they aren't shocked by cold soil or cold air. They can't go out if nighttime temps are below 50°F Keep them growing inside until then.

Keep them well watered their first few days. After that, water when they're dry. In blistering hot weather, protect them from the worst of the sun. After the soil gets good and warm, you can mulch to help keep it damp, but don't mulch prematurely, because that delays the warming of the soil—and your harvest.

Storing. Don't cram fruit into airtight plastic bags. That will make them spoil sooner rather than later.

Continue reading here: Eggplant

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