We are midway into the New Orleans’ Spring Gardening season, and if any of you are growing vegetables, It’s a more than fair bet that you are trying to grow nightshades. Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplants. It’s what we do, it’s an impulsion that cannot be helped for the seasoned grower nor the gardening initiate. We like to grow these things because we like to eat these things. They are a cornerstone of just about every sort of notable cooking style throughout the world. The thing is, they’re not particularly easy to grow.
Rather than give you ultimate insight into how to best grow this family of food, I’m just going to give you one tip today. Grow small. It doesn’t matter if you’re growing in pots or raised beds or top of the line aquaponic indoor pink light systems. Growing small will take you further. Especially here in the Deep South where deep heat and deep moisture encourage rampant insect growth and plant disease in the summer months.
Small means cherry tomatoes, or pear tomatoes, or if you simply must have something more substantial, something no larger than Roma. I’m not telling you what to do, I’m just telling you what to do if you want a substantial yield. I’m just telling you what to do if you want to feel good about yourself and your garden this summer. I’m just telling you what to do if want to eat tomatoes this summer, and not just that one time on that one sandwich that you get to eat one time with one friend before all is lost in TomatoLand©.
Here’s why: Smaller tomatoes grow faster. Smaller tomatoes mature faster. Smaller tomatoes put out exponentially more fruit, not just in number, but in weight as well. In my opinion, they tend to taste better too.
I am no botanist, but I have a theory on why little tomatoes do so much better. Basically, they are derived from tiny fruits. That’s the theory. Our ancestors found these tiny little fruits, like smaller than marbles tiny, along mountainsides in South America, and slowly cultivated them over many generations into the tomatoes the likes of which we know today. So that’s how that works.
As I mentioned earlier, smaller tomatoes also ripen faster, so they are left on the vine and open to all manner of hungry insect and insipid fungus for less time.
I shouldn’t have divided this blog into categories based on specific vegetables, because I pretty much covered everything under ‘Tomatoes’.
Bell peppers take an extremely long time to mature. The good news is, we like to eat them before they mature! A green bell pepper is an immature bell pepper. The bad news is, green bell peppers are significantly less beneficial for you than mature bell peppers, regardless of their final color. Green peppers are like celery, tasty and crunchy but nutritiously fairly useless. Red peppers, orange peppers, purple peppers, and so on, are nutrient dense and delicious too. Either way, your peppers will be disappointingly small and the yield will be a bit terrible too if you go the way of Bell.
If you want sweet peppers, try something a little smaller, like banana peppers. If you want hot peppers, you are way better off. Hot peppers grow like hangovers in the New Orleans heat. They are unstoppable and multitudinous. You will inevitably succeed in getting them. Grow hot peppers. Put them in your bloody marys. Fight fire with fire. It is our way.
Eggplants are actually a lot easier to grow in our climate than their cousins. You will have better luck with smaller eggplant varieties, but growing the big boys isn’t too hard. The only real concern here is critters. Larger fruits do take longer to mature, and thus have more time on the vine to be sucked dry and inoculated with disease by beetles and the like. They are also huge and can be very taxing on the branches they grow from, so serious trellising might come into play, but if you’re willing to put a little legwork into infrastructure, go ahead and go big with these guys. I would recommend Thai and South Asian varieties over more common American or European varieties regardless of size, simply because our climate has more in common with those regions than it does with, say, New England.
All this said, if you’re not into small things though, please grow your monster vegetables and prove me wrong. The most important part of food gardening is to grow food that you will eat, so do that!
Ian writes these. Fearlessly.