Tomatoes and Peppers – “some like it hot”
Of all the different veggies you could choose to grow, the most satisfying are tomatoes and peppers. Nothing you could ever buy in a store is ever going to taste as good as a still-warm-from-the-sun plump ripe tomato picked out of your own garden. Homegrown peppers are an adventure in themselves. I don’t imagine you’d find a Carolina Reaper (the worlds hottest pepper) or a chocolate bell in your local grocery store.
But before you start planting there are a few tips and tricks that are good to know, to set you up for success, and since both these plants are related they share some common traits.
First off they take a long time to germinate so unless you planted your seeds indoors back in January and February, then let’s just move right on into getting transplants, you are too late for seeds. Do not pass go, just head down to the Garden Centre and get yourself some plants.
These plants like it HOT.
Do not even think about planting tomatoes and peppers in the shade, they need 6-8 hours of sunlight to perform. Let’s remember where these plants originated from, Mexico, central and South America, cold and rainy is not their thing. So please don’t plant them out too soon, they will not be happy and neither will you. Generally, when nighttime temperatures are reaching 10°C minimum (usually after Mother’s Day) then we are all in the clear to get planting. Also, these are great crops to grow in containers or raised beds since the elevated soil will warm up faster in the spring… which leads me to my next tip.
Know your Days to Maturity.
Sometimes all the information on labels can be a bit overwhelming, but there is one bit of info that is very useful and that is the days to maturity. We don’t have a long growing season in British Columbia so we need our plants to go from planting to flowering to harvest as fast as possible. Look for early ripening tomatoes, cherry and grape types are a good option or read your labels and look for clues in the variety name, like Early Girl. Many peppers can be slow to mature, especially some of the larger bell types. There has been many a gardener who has wondered “will my pepper ever ripen and change colour”. You can get around this a few ways, pick and eat it green, keep waiting or choose to grow a smaller pepper (the smaller the pepper the faster it ripens).
Don’t be stingy with water.
Even though these plants like it hot they still need even watering. A flood and drought cycle can cause the skins of tomatoes to grow unevenly and then split. If you are not the most diligent waterer, consider mulching, it will help the soil moisture remain constant.
Feed your plants.
There are a variety of fertilizers to choose from, both organic and conventional, that are formulated for growing tomatoes or other “fruiting” veggies (with a lower nitrogen component). Another option is to consider amending your soil with a mycorrhizae or composted material. But one thing in particular you need proper plant nutrition for is to avoid a problem called blossom end rot (which by the way is exactly what it sounds like, the fruit rot on the end where the blossom was, it’s gross and makes your crop inedible). This happens when the plant does not get enough calcium and is especially a problem for tomatoes grown in a container, but it can happen to tomatoes planted out in the garden and peppers too. It’s easy to remedy, just be sure to get a fertilizer with calcium and magnesium. There are lots of options available in store.
Support your plants.
That does not mean you should go out and ask them how they are doing during these troubling times, literally support them or they might fall over. When fruit start to ripen they can become heavy and may snap the stems of your plants. This is especially important if you are growing an indeterminate tomato (one that does not stop growing up, just like the proverbial bean stalk, they just keep going up). Choose a tomato cage, trellis or gently tie to stake (making sure not crush the tender stems).
Prune your plants.
Tomatoes have something called sucker vines, which are little shoots that start to grow out of the “crotch” where a branch meets the main stem. These sucker vines will not flower and only serve to suck energy away from fruit production, so pinch them out when you see them. Peppers benefit from having their growing tips pinched back. This promotes bushier growth which can protect the fruit from getting sun-scalding.
Growing your own tomatoes and peppers can be so rewarding, they are worth the little bit of effort required. Just be sure to read the labels that come with your plants (there really is a lot of information on them), ask lots of questions, and follow the tips above. Then sit back and enjoy the harvest all summer long.
Tomato specific tips:
Beware of late blight. Late blight is a fungal disease that happens to tomatoes when they get wet late in the season. One day your tomatoes are growing and happy and then next they are a black rotting mess. The spores of the fungus, which are like dust… everywhere and unavoidable… are just sitting on the leaves of your plants waiting for perfect conditions to germinate. If you can limit the amount of water that sits on the tomato leaves then you prevent the disease from growing. Water first thing in the morning so the leaves dry quickly, or try to only water the base of the plant avoiding the leaves as much as possible. If you are serious, you can build a tomato shelter to keep dew and rain off them, just make sure that it has good airflow.
Tomatoes are one of the few plants that benefit from being planted deeply. They can grow something called adventitious roots. So if you plant them a bit deep they will start to grow new roots right off the main stem (just be sure there are no leaves being buried, the leaves can’t grow roots, they just rot which is gross).
Both tomatoes and peppers are technically fruit
The name “tomato” come from the ancient Aztec word Xitomatl which means “swelling fruit”
Another name for tomato is a Love Apple
In Italian the name for tomato is Pomo d’oro which means “golden apple”
Green peppers are just unripened peppers, as pepper change colour the sugars and vitamin C content increases.
Written by: Ingrid Hoff