- Author: Sophie Loeb
Some Like it Hot
As you know if you've been to the Spring Garden Market before, tomatoes are not the only stars of the show. Master Gardeners Nancy Grove, Cindy Burgdorf, and Tina Roushall lead a team of growers to bring a variety of eggplant and pepper starts to the market as well. Grove, who lives in her childhood home, added a greenhouse a number of years ago and generously uses it to propagate seedlings for the sale each year. "There was always an orchard out back," she says, "and my mom taught me to can when I was 8."
How do they choose which varieties to frow? Each of these gardeners has extensive personal experience with vegetable gardening--Burgdorf has 12 raised beds for fruits and veggies in her Atherton yard and grows 25 different tomato bushes! They also take into account "feedback from what our customers are interested in," says Grove. "That's one of the things I really enjoy about being at the market day of.... we recently added Pimientos de Padron and Guajillo by request." They grow a range from sweet to "really quite hot" peppers.
The growers start their seeding in January. As Grove puts it, "we do it a little bit differently than the tomato folks." With a few exceptions, the hotter the pepper is, the slower it germinates and grows, so they do their seeding over a period of five weeks with a different batch each week. By the time the last sweet peppers are being seeded, the first are ready for up-potting, so there is often some overlap. They use heat mats for germinating seeds but have found that too much heat later on makes for leggy starts.
Burgdorf, who has been a Master Gardener since 2008, advises that for those of us who live in the foggier coastal areas, "you will do better with a sweet pepper rather than an extremely hot one....You might even want to use a floating row cover to make it a little warmer for them." She also had some other growing tips: "for both tomatoes and peppers it's important to plant them really deep, up to the first set of leaves." For example, if you have an 8" tall start, plant so only 2 inches are visible. "It may look like you're setting them back," she admits, "but they'll grow faster because they grow more roots." The little hairs along the stem are actually adventitious roots that develop if they're under the soil. pick off leaves towards the bottom. She also suggests picking off the lower leaves as the plant grows, eventually leave 12-18" of bare stem at the bottom. This will protect from the spread of soil-borne diseases.
Sadly, this will be the first year that Nancy Grove won't be at the market due to a travel conflict, but Burgdorf, Roushall, and the other volunteers have years of experience and will be able to help all comers! Burgdorf spoke highly of “Satin Moon” eggplant and said she likes to have a mix of peppers, like a really hot pepper, a jalapeño style like “Holy Mole” and a sweet one, like the yellow “Sweet Banana.” Whether you plan to use fresh in cooking or preserve, you won't want to skip this section of the Spring Garden Market!
—Arwen Griffith, MG 2015
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