Harvesting Eggplant, Peppers and Okra
The most important thing about harvesting eggplant, peppers and okra is to start as soon as there’s something to eat. It’s the job of the plant to make seeds, so too much of the plant’s effort will go into ripening the fruit instead of producing new fruit if you don’t harvest regularly and often. Make it a practice to go out every few days and pick what’s ready to eat. Try to get the most out of each plant. After all, having good things to eat is one of the main reasons to garden.
You can harvest peppers when they’re as small as golf balls. Most peppers, except for a few varieties like Sweet Banana, are green when young. Don’t be surprised if you see your bell peppers turn red; many of them do as they ripen. Harvest them by cutting through the stem of each fruit with a knife. You can have an almost-continuous harvest from your pepper plants by cutting often, as this encourages the plant to keep blossoming, especially in the beginning of the summer. Later in the season, leave some green peppers on your plants to turn red. They taste wonderful and are colorful in pepper relish.
In the South, pepper plants can be cut back after the first big harvest to encourage another crop. That’s because peppers are really a perennial plant, although they are most often grown as an annual. If your season is long enough, cut the plant back to a few inches above the soil surface. The plant will grow back and give you a second, large harvest. Don’t forget to sidedress, though, so the plant will have enough food to continue its work.
Eggplant tastes best when harvested young. If you cut into an eggplant and find an abundance of brown seeds, it’s already too late for prime eating. The fruit will be a dark, glossy purple when it’s ready to harvest. The surface of the eggplant will turn dull and it will taste bitter as it gets older and past its prime. To harvest eggplant, cut through the stem above the green cap, or calyx, on the top. It’s a tough stem, so have a sharp knife handy. The calyx can be prickly, so you may want to wear gloves. You can cut these plants back like peppers if your season is long enough for a second crop.
Gloves and a long-sleeved shirt are practically a must when you harvest okra. The pods and leaves are usually covered with little spines you can hardly see. These spines can get under your skin and make your hands and arms itch for days.
Overripe okra is too tough to eat, and it grows so fast you may have to harvest every day. A pod that’s ready one day will have gone by the next. The best pods, those not more than four inches long, should be cut with a knife or broken right below the cap on the bottom. Only one pod grows beneath each leaf, so break off the leaf after harvesting the pod. This helps you remember where you’ve already harvested and indicates where to start the next time.
Okra plants grow so tall in the South you may have to stand on a ladder to harvest them! Okra doesn’t get nearly that tall in the North. When the plants get too tall to harvest, southern gardeners can cut them back to 12 to 18 inches above the ground. This is usually done in July or August. The plants will sprout again to make a second crop. You can also grow dwarf varieties that grow less than six feet tall.
Eggplant Harvest: Information On How To Harvest An Eggplant
Learning when to harvest eggplants results in the tastiest and most tender of the fruit. Leaving the eggplant harvest too long causes bitter eggplant with a tough skin and large seeds. Learning how to harvest an eggplant correctly comes with practice, but it shouldn’t take long before you’re picking an eggplant like a pro.
When to Harvest Eggplants
A member of the nightshade family and a relative of tomatoes, the appearance of the skin can direct you to picking an eggplant. Skin should be glossy and thin. Eggplant harvest may begin when the fruits are developed and small, but growing fruits to full size before harvesting eggplants results in more fruit for usage.
Harvesting eggplants should occur when the inner flesh is cream colored, fruits are firm and before seeds are visible. Learning when to harvest eggplants may require cutting into the fruit to check the color of the flesh and the size of the seeds. Skin color and size of the fruit will also determine when the eggplant harvest should begin.
When you’ve learned how to harvest an eggplant, less cutting into the fruit is necessary. You’ll be able to determine when to begin the eggplant harvest by just looking at the fruit.
Picking an Eggplant
Once you’ve determined that it’s time to start the eggplant harvest, wear gloves and long sleeves, as the eggplant stem has prickles, which can irritate the skin.
When harvesting eggplants, treat the fruit gently, as it bruises easily. Harvesting eggplants includes cutting a short piece of stem above the calyx (cap) attached to the top of the fruit. Use pruners or a sharp knife.
Harvesting eggplants at their prime may take several days to a few weeks in succession, and frequent eggplant harvest promotes heavier yield of the fruit.
One of the best parts about our test kitchen manager, Brad Leone’s, job is his weekly trip to the farmers’ market. It’s his responsibility to supply the kitchen with ripe produce, protein, and pantry staples year-round. In the summer, when the farms are cranking out the good stuff, Brad is like a kid in a candy store. Every Wednesday, he hits the market with his reusable grocery bags to stock up on what’s fresh and good—and do a little snacking and snapping along the way, of course. (He took that gorgeous picture at the top of the page!) Check back here at our From the Market column every Wednesday to see what Brad picked up and, of course, to get some cooking inspiration of your own.
Parmesan, baba ghanoush, gratin…these are just a few of our favorite words, and they all have one thing in common: Eggplant! This summertime staple is a member of the nightshade family, and comes in just about as many varieties as there are ways to cook them. From long, skinny Japanese eggplant to the speckled and pale purple Fairy Tale variety, all eggplants share a few key components to look for when shopping. Here are Brad’s tips for buying and cooking the best eggplants at the market—no matter what kind you choose.
Grilled Eggplant with Lemons and Labneh. Photo: Alex Lau
1. Smooth and Shiny’s the Way to Go
“I like to look for shiny and smooth skin that has even consistency through out the vegetable,” says Brad. Dull garish skin is a sign of poor storage or down right bad quality. Wrinkles are a sign that the eggplant is old and was harvested a long time ago, so pass over wrinkly skin in favor of taut, tight eggplants. It goes without saying that you “don’t want brown blemishes or soft spots!”
2. A Little Firmness Is A-Okay
“Eggplant should be slightly firm but not hard,” says Leone. In other words, if you push on it with your finger and the veggie feels very soft, or you’re able to puncture the skin, it’s too far gone. A perfectly ripe eggplant will not have as much give when touched as a ripe tomato or peach.
3. Pay Close Attention to the Stem
Although the majority of the plant should be a vibrant purple (or bright white, depending on the variety), Brad offers another tip: “The stem end should be green.” In addition, it should be free and clear of any mold or mushiness; while the skin of the plant may look pert and perky, signs of damage may be lurking around that stem. Check there first!
Eggplant Parm. Photo: Alex Lau
4. Beware of the Bitterness
Despite conventional wisdom, most eggplants aren’t unbearably bitter. However, there is an exception: “Large eggplants can be more bitter and have more seeds as the vegetable was given more time to mature,” explains Brad. Avoid the hassle by choosing small- to medium-sized and well-formed eggplants.
5. Eat It Within a Week…Or Don’t
Eggplants can be stored in the fridge for a few days to great success, says Brad. But if you’ve come across a bumper crop, fear not: You don’t have to eat eggplant at every meal. Instead, roast and blend the eggplant in big batches. Freeze the purée with a little lemon juice (to prevent discoloration), and use it in sauces and dips (like this Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread) all year ’round.
Need some recipe inspiration? Here are 22 great eggplant recipes to get you started.
Eggplant, (Solanum melongena), also called aubergine or Guinea squash, tender perennial plant of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), grown for its edible fruits. Eggplant requires a warm climate and has been cultivated in its native Southeast Asia since remote antiquity. A staple in cuisines of the Mediterranean region, eggplant figures prominently in such classic dishes as the Greek moussaka, the Italian eggplant parmigiana, and the Middle Eastern relish baba ghanoush. It is also frequently served as a baked, grilled, fried, or boiled vegetable and is used as a garnish and in stews. The plant is closely related to the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and the potato (S. tuberosum) as well as to several poisonous nightshades.
eggplantEggplant (Solanum melongena).© Leonid Shcheglov/FotoliaRead More on This Topic Solanales: Eggplant Solanum melongena (eggplant, or aubergine) was domesticated from a group of spiny Solanum species of tropical Asia, where…
Eggplant is usually grown as an annual and features an erect bushy stem that is sometimes armed with spines. The leaves are large, ovate, and slightly lobed. The pendant violet flowers are characteristically solitary and approximately 5 cm (2 inches) across. The fruit is a large egg-shaped berry with a glossy surface that varies in colour from dark purple to red, pink, yellowish, or white and is sometimes striped; the colour and shape of the white variety is the source of the common name.
15 fun facts about aubergines
We love aubergines: gorgeous to look at and versatile in their preparation. There are lots of different facts about aubergines, and we collected 15 interesting ones. Do you know them all?
2. Different colours
Are you only familiar with the purple aubergine? The fruit can come in other colours too, like white, green and purple with white stripes.
3. Family members
The aubergine belongs to the tomato and potato family, which are all nightshades.
4. Storing aubergines
Aubergines are best stored in a cool place, outside the fridge.
5. Can you eat them raw?
You should avoid eating aubergines raw, because they can give stomach problems. In China they do eat the green variant raw, but don’t try this at home;-)
6. Surprising content
Did you know that an aubergine contains nicotine? But only a tiny amount, just 0.01%. You would have to eat 9 kilos of aubergines to get the same amount of nicotine as in one cigarette.
7. Vegetable or fruit?
The aubergine is a fruit, but is always prepared and regarded as a vegetable.
8. In what climate do aubergine grow best?
Aubergines like heat; an average temperature of 20-25 degrees is ideal.
9. Should an aubergine be peeled before cooking?
No, just slice off the end.
10. Where do aubergines originally come from?
The aubergine plant originally comes from Myamar.
11. When were aubergines first found in Europe?
Arabs brought aubergines to Spanish Andalusia in the 15th century.
12. How many fruits grow on an aubergine plant?
110 aubergines per plant, which will give you lots of moussaka.
13. What percentage of water does an aubergine contain?
The aubergine consists of 95% water and 50% of the volume is air!
14. In which national cuisine is the aubergine used most?
Asia uses a lot of aubergines. They are also frequently used in Turkey and the Middle East.
15. How big can an aubergine plant grow?
The aubergine plant can grow to a length of 5 to 6 metres.
Find more information about preparation, storing, buying and tasty aubergine recipes.
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How to grow eggplant as a perennial
San Diego reader Don Skolnik wrote to our SoCal Garden Clinic to ask if eggplant can be grown as a perennial. This past summer, Skolnik said, he grew a Black Beauty eggplant bush in a 15-gallon container.
“It grew to be 3 feet tall, and it produced lots of medium-size, delicious eggplants,” he said.
“What should I do with my eggplant bush during winter to prepare it for next season? Should I heavily prune it back to short and stubby stems? How should I water and fertilize it? Should I repot it in new soil in the spring?”
For an answer we turned to Yvonne Savio, manager of the UC Cooperative Extension’s Common Ground Garden Program for Los Angeles County, who oversees the training of master gardeners.
Congratulations on last year’s successful harvest. The plant is in the same Solanaceae family as tomatoes and peppers, so it may grow from year to year, depending on the climate.
I grew some pepper plants for five years before the yields were so reduced that I pulled them out. In the fall, I pruned the branches to the lowest new growth. I incorporated more manure and compost into the soil and kept it barely moist. And I provided overhead frost protection during threatening spells.
In the spring, I also planted new 4-inch plants to compare the vigor of growth and harvest, expecting the old plants to outgrow and outproduce the new ones. However, the old plants and the new ones initially grew at the same rate and yielded the same number and size of fruits. You may not need to pull them out for a few years or until a hard frost.
The SoCal Garden Clinic welcome questions and comments at [email protected] Include “SoCal Garden Clinic” in the subject line. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can respond only to select questions.