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istock-000015611774xsmall.jpgPeppers and Eggplant

As with most of our varieties, almost all of our peppers and eggplants are traditional heirloom varieties selected over the years by discriminating Italian cooks for their fine taste.  

Culture.  Both prefer a well-drained, loose soil.  High nitrogen content encourages rampant growth but fewer fruit.  In most areas of the country you will need to use transplants.  Generally, 8-9 week transplants are best. If you have any flowers or flower buds on peppers, remove them before setting outside. Transplant only after the soil has warmed up well, generally 2-3 weeks after the last frost date. Set peppers 16 inches apart in rows two feet apart;  eggplant should be at least 18 inches apart in rows 30-36 inches apart.  Plant them at or slightly deeper than they were in the pot.  

Peppers and especially eggplant are real heat lovers and in zones 4-6 benefit from a black plastic mulch. They also benefit from some support, especially producers of large fruit like Corno di Toro Rossa, Prosperosa or Violetta Lunga.  You can drive a 3-foot stake between every plant (or every other plant).  Tie a string to the end stake and go down the row, weaving the string between the plant and the next stake;  at the end of the row, tie the string to the stake, turn around and weave back.  Two ‘ties’ are usually sufficient.  You can also use the small tomato cages they sell in hardware stores which are useless for tomatoes but perfect for eggplants or large peppers. Keep well watered.  

Harvest/storage.  You can pick peppers when immature (green) or fully ripe (usually red or yellow).  Pick eggplants when fully ripe-that is when they have completely colored up.  Harvest by cutting with a sharp knife or a heavy scissors.  Don’t try to break the stem-you will usually damage the plant.  Store peppers in the refrigerator crisper for longest useful life.  Do not put eggplants in the refrigerator.  Store at room temperature out of direct sunlight.  Check the recipe section for cooking suggestions.