June 19, 2017

Tomatoes and Peppers and Ground Cherries Oh My?

It is the middle of June and I thought it worth providing an update on my three oldest (aside from the perennials) plants of the year. At almost five months old, the tomatoes, peppers, and ground cherries are really coming to life in the garden. If this is the first you’ve heard of the experiment I am doing with these plants, check out the previous posts: May 7, 2017 and May 14, 2017.

Taking a look back, I began these three plant varieties on January 28th in the indoor grow room. This was an experiment to see if I could give them a head start and hopefully get larger and more harvests. Especially since Wisconsin does not have the longest growing season, we wait all year to get one harvest of peppers and then winter arrives and you have to wait till next year! These plants grew really well inside and with pruning grew quite strong. They survived the hardening off period and Memorial Day was the big transplant day for all three plant types. It’s a period of time where you hold your breath and hope that they don’t go into shock and quit on you altogether. Luckily these had no problems.


All nine of the peppers are really enjoying the hot weather that we’ve been having, being 80 and even 90 degree days. Each plant is strong and healthy. The three different varieties are:

  1. Bull Nose - Which is a bell pepper supposedly grown by Thomas Jefferson.
  2. Jimmy Nardello Sweet Italian Frying Pepper
  3. Mystery - I will know which variety this is when the peppers become ripe. This one came up on accident in a cup that had peppers in it last year. It could be a Cayenne, Buena Mulata, or Hot Hungarian.

Surprisingly, every pepper plant has peppers on it and they are nearing completion, which is by far the earliest I will have ever had peppers in my garden. This could mean that I may get more than one harvest this year - knock on wood!

For those that are wondering, I decided not to do any hot peppers this year as I still have some left from last year.


The tomatoes have surprised me the most. I felt that the way I had these pruned, they were not going to make it. And in fact many did not. I started with over nine Sheboygan Tomato plants and two German Pink, but either on accident or on purpose I lost seven of the Sheboygan ones. The way I pruned them, caused the plants to branch out and form four “arms” that hung down from their pots like Medusa’s hair. In some cases, the “arms” got so heavy that they ripped the plant in half. Nevertheless, two of each variety made it out to the garden.

You may be wondering how I planted these if they have four “arms” and are all over the place. And really, this was all experimental. Previously I have planted them with cages, and I’ve also grown them straight up a bamboo pole, pinching off the side shoots as they went up. This year I choose to bury them. Yup, you heard me right! Bury them.

You’ll notice that the entire center of the tomato was completely buried and then i spread each of the four “arms” out in different directions and buried these as well with just a few shoots sticking out above the ground. By doing this it promotes more roots. Tomatoes will continue to send out roots from the stem wherever it is buried, making the plant stronger.

I also like to lay down mulch around the plants. This year I went with hay since I had some laying around. Not only will this keep moisture from evaporating quickly, but it will also prevent dirt from splashing up on the leaves of the plant when watering or raining. This dirt plays a big part in causing certain diseases in tomato plants.

This year, I’m letting them go wild. They get the whole 4’x5′ bed to spread out in as they see fit.

Ground Cherries

No it’s not a tomatillo or a cherry tomato. It’s also not a pineapple? But yes, it is somewhere in between. I’m talking about the largely unknown ground cherry.

A few years back, I was looking through the Slow Food Arc of Taste seed catalog and happened upon a plant variety called “Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry” and thought it was pretty unique, but decided not to buy it. A year later and this same variety’s fruit was being sold at our farmers market, and so I tried them. For me, the flavor became almost an addiction and so this year I’m growing them.

Let’s first look at what this plant produces. Each berry is encased in a tan colored husk that shields it from hungry insects. The berry when ripe, is a light yellow in color and when unripe, green. I’ve always had the impression that a ripe berry tasted like a cross between a pineapple and cherry tomato (pineapple first, cherry tomato after taste). I know that sounds pretty disgusting, so you will just have to try one to understand what I mean. The taste between a ripe and unripe berry is noticeably different and not in a good way. Never fear though, the plant will tell you when the berry is ripe as it will literally fall off the plant to the ground when it is edible. I’m guessing that is how it got the name “ground cherry”.

Originally, I planted four of these plants in the indoor grow room at around the same time as the peppers and tomatoes. Pruning them as they aged, in the same way that each of the other early starters were being pruned. When it came time to transplant them outside in the garden, I unfortunately only had room for two.

What you’ll notice about ground cherry plants (at least mine the last two years) is that they keep a pretty low profile, growing fairly close to the ground. This year especially, sprawling more like a vine horizontally verses vertically. Don’t be fooled however, they generally produce a good amount of berries. They are small so don’t expect them to increase your total yield weight by much!

If nothing else, ground cherries are a great conversation starter because they are grown by such a small number of people.

With the beginning of summer just around the corner, I expect each of these plants to produce some really nice harvests. That is as long as nothing unexpected happens.

For those of you that have had ground cherries before, what is your favorite thing to make with them. Let me know in the comments below.


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About the Author

Geoff has been growing plants and vegetables consistently for the last 6 years and actively experiments with, and writes about, all aspects of gardening.

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