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Provide a warm, sunny site, with light, fertile, well-drained soil for these tender crops. All, except sweet corn, will flourish in containers, in a greenhouse or by a sunny wall. Warm the soil by covering with cloches or clear plastic before planting.
Sow crops under cover, at 60 degrees F or warmer, in early spring. Where small numbers are required, sow seeds into individual pots of multipurpose potting mix, and cover with sifted potting mix. Keep growing seedlings in a well-lit place. Harden plants off in a cold frame or outside under fleece for a week before erecting supports and planting out in the final positions. Pots should be at least 10 inches wide and deep, or you can use growing bags. Sweet corn can be direct-sown outdoors in mild areas from mid-spring.
Water well during flowering and when fruits are developing. Cordon tomatoes need tying into supports, and sideshoots that appear where leaves join the main stem should be pinched out. Pinch out the growing tips of eggplants and peppers to encourage compact growth. When fruits begin to set, apply a liquid fertilizer weekly. Aphids, red spider mites, and whiteflies are common on crops grown under cover, as is botrytis (gray mold). Tomatoes are susceptible to blight, potato cyst eelworm and viruses. Sweet corn is a favorite with animal pests; mice eat seed in the soil, while birds, squirrels, and raccoons can ruin crops.
Pick eggplants while the skin is glossy. Uproot outdoor tomatoes and peppers before the first frost and hang in a greenhouse to ripen the last fruits. Check sweet corn for maturity when the silks turn brown by piercing a kernel; white juice shows ripeness.
The best way to water tomatoes is to insert a pot, or a plastic bottle cut in half, with holes in the base, into the soil next to each tomato plant and water into it. This delivers moisture directly to the deeper roots and reduces evaporation rates.
Arrange plants in dense blocks where the pollen will be concentrated, to maximize the yield. These plants rely on the wind to disperse their pollen, and planting in this way encourages the best possible crop.
Sweet Corn (image 1)
These plants look stately in flower beds, and the freshly picked cobs, cooked seconds after harvest, taste terrific.
Sweet Pepper (image 2)
Easy to grow, the long, thin-walled varieties of grilling pepper look pretty on the plant and have good flavor.
Eggplant (image 3)
When pinched out to keep them bushy, eggplants make attractive plants for patio pots in warm areas.
Chili Pepper (image 4)
Easy to grow, these fiery fruits only ripen reliably under cover. Try them on a windowsill and freeze any excess.
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening
© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007
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