There’s nothing quite like the fresh, savory taste of eggplant parmesan. Or perhaps you prefer eggplant hot off the grill?
Whatever your preferences might be, growing your own eggplant is a great way to spruce up your landscaping and to become more self-sufficient. This plant grows easily, and looks gorgeous in containers, border edges, raised beds, and even in traditional gardens.
Most eggplant varieties produce a ton of fruits, so you’ll be able to harvest more than a dozen or so fruits from each plant every season – especially if you live in a warm climate.
But even if your climate is on the chillier side, it’s still possible to grow a bountiful harvest of these dark-colored vegetables. Here’s how to plant, grow, and harvest enough eggplant to feed your entire family.
|Latin name||Solanum melongena|
|Soil type||fertile, well-draining|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.0 (slightly acid to neutral)|
|Sun||The more the better|
There are countless varieties of eggplant you might consider growing. The two most common “standard” eggplant varieties are Black Beauty and Black Magic.
Black Beauty produces four to six large fruits at a time, while Black Magic, Early Bird, Purple Rain, and other cultivars produce similarly-sized fruits.
You might also consider growing Japanese eggplant:
This type of eggplant tastes more or less like standard eggplant, but it has a more delicate flavor and thinner skin. Two popular varieties include Little Fingers and Ichiban.
Ichiban eggplant is long and slim, a hybrid variety with thin skin. You’ll get up to a dozen fruits at a time! Little Fingers, on the other hand, produces finger-sized eggplants – and lots of them.
There is also one ornamental variety of eggplant for you to be aware of – Easter Egg. Easter Egg eggplant produces white fruits that are beautiful, but not edible.
You can grow eggplant from seed or by using starter seedlings. If you decide to grow from seedlings, begin your plants indoors about four to six weeks before the last anticipated date of frost. Don’t plant your seedlings until the danger of frost has passed.
Keep in mind that you will also need to harden your seedlings off before translating them. This will involve putting them outside for a few hours each day, gradually increasing the amount of time they are exposed to the outdoors every day until you are ready to plant.
The best time to plant eggplant is on a day that’s warm, cloudy, and windless. This will give your seedlings the best chance at survival.
Wait to plant eggplant (either by starting seeds or seedlings) until the soil temperatures are higher than 50 degrees F (10 C), and all danger of frost has passed. You can grow directly on the ground or even in a raised bed.
The plus side of growing in a raised bed is that it will allow you to ensure optimal drainage, and to make sure the soil is nice and warm before you plant.
Before planting, amend your soil with lots of balanced compost or similar types of fertilizer. This will keep your plants strong and well-fed throughout the growing season.
When you plant, make sure your plants are spaced at least 24 to 36 inches apart. Once they’re established, you need to stake them so they don’t topple over.
Make sure the area you select has room for your stakes, and also make sure it has plenty of fertile, well-draining soil.
Direct, full sunlight is also important. Eggplant likes at least six hours of unobstructed sun each day.
If you are growing in a cool climate, you would do well to lay down a layer of black plastic prior to planting. This will help warm the soil and when you’re ready to plant, you can simply cut holes in the plastic and go to town!
The other benefit of planting in black plastic is that it will dramatically reduce the number of weeds you have to deal with.
Other options for gardeners in cool climates include planting in large, dark-colored containers (which tend to retain heat at a rate of ten degrees F warmer than regular soil on the ground).
You can also use row covers, which will protect your plants during the occasional cold snap. You will just need to remove the row covers on warm days, so that bees and other pollinators can get to the plants.
Eggplant grows best during warm temperatures (between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 to 30 Celsius) and its growth will slow during cold weather.
How to Care for Eggplant
Eggplant is relatively easy to care for as long as you keep a few things in mind. First, eggplant likes to be kept moist at all times -but not soggy.
The best way to water your plants is to use soaker hoses that will supply just enough water to the roots of the plant, and not to the leaves.
About one inch of water per week is required, but perhaps a bit more during dry spells and when your plants are first getting established.
If you don’t supply your eggplant with enough water, the fruits will grow small, and be exceptionally bitter.
You do not need to fertilize your eggplant, especially if you took care when planting to add plenty of organic matter to the soil.
Otherwise, you can feed your plants regularly with continuous-release plant food, or with compost or compost tea.
If you do decide to fertilize, avoid those that are high in nitrogen. This can cause the leaves of your plant to grow at the expense of fruit production.
Otherwise, fertilizer can be applied via drip irrigation or by applying it to the side of the row.
Wait to fertilize until about six weeks after planting (after the plant has blossomed and set is first fruits). You can fertilize once more in late summer, when the plants are laden with fruits.
Keep in mind that you will need to fertilize and water eggplant more often if you are growing it in a container. In fact, you may need to fertilize as often as every two weeks and water every other day or so, depending on the weather.
Both water and nutrients leach more readily from containers than they do from the soil.
Mulch is essential to keep weeds away from your eggplant. Use organic matter, like finely ground leaves or even bark, and apply this once your plants are six inches tall.
Mulch will not only help keep the soil adequately moist and cool during hot spells, but it can also prevent weeds from forming.
Again, staking is necessary to support your plants as they become weighted with heavy frits.
You can use a stake just an inch or two from the plant when you plant, which will prevent you from disturbing the adult plant later on. You can also use tiny tomato cages.
If you don’t mulch around your eggplant or place in black plastic, make sure you weed carefully. Weeds rapidly outcompete eggplant, and it doesn’t take long for them to do so. Hand-pull them or weed carefully with a cultivator or hoe.
Eggplant has pretty strong roots, so while you won’t need to avoid weeding near the base altogether, you should be a bit careful to avoid pulling up the plant.
Another issue that many people have when growing eggplant has to do with pollinators. The best pollinators are bees, but if bees are rare in your area, you can also hand pollinate your flowers.
Simply dab a paintbrush into the open blossoms to spread pollen from blossom to blossom.
Growing Eggplant in a Container
You read that right – eggplant can even be grown in a container! In fact, this plant is quite amenable to container-growing, as it likes to be kept warm, and doesn’t take up a ton of space.
It’s just as easy to grow eggplant in a container as it is to grow tomatoes. After all, the two are closely related. You just need to make sure you have a large enough pot to support the roots of this dense, heavy plant, and that your soil medium is well-draining and nutritious.
Choose a container that is at least five gallons in volume. You’ll need about 12 to 14 inches of space per plant, but you can generally put three plants in a 20 inch container as long as it’s deep enough.
If you use an unglazed pot, particularly one that’s darker in color, it will dry out more quickly, which can be beneficial to prevent root rot (you’ll just need to be vigilant about watering).
Your container should also have large drainage holes.
Place your container in a sunny, warm environment. Your soil medium should be two part potting soil and one part sand, which will not only help facilitate drainage but will also ensure adequate nutrients.
Water regularly and fertilize when you plant – ideally, using a slow-release fertilizer or organic compost.
When you plant, you should take the time to install some kind of support system. A trellis, stake, or tomato cage will work just fine.
This will help provide necessary support to your eggplant as it grows taller, but by installing it before your seedlings emerge or become larger, you won’t have to worry about damaging their delicate roots.
Eggplant Pests and Diseases
Eggplants tend to be pretty hardy plants. Most mammals and birds won’t bother them, since they are members of the nightshade family. Like peppers and tomatoes, eggplants produce leaves and stems that can be toxic when consumed.
However, there are some insect pests to which eggplant is vulnerable…
You may notice tiny holes on the leaves – these are caused by flea beetles. You can remove them by using an organic pesticide or by plucking them by hand. Row covers and crop rotation can also help to prevent this problem.
Other common pests include tomato hornworms, lace bugs, mites, and Colorado potato beetles.
A common disease that affects eggplant is verticillium wilt. This is a soil-borne fungus that leads to plants wilting and dying.
It is commonly found in non-resistant varieties of tomatoes, so growing your eggplant far away from tomato crops can help reduce your eggplant’s vulnerability to this disease.
Another disease that can affect eggplant is powdery mildew. This disease appears as small white, powdery spots on the leaves of the plant. It doesn’t usually kill an eggplant plant, but it can cause its growth to be stunted.
To prevent powdery mildew, plant resistant varieties of eggplant, grow your plants in full sun, and make sure there’s good air circulation.
Again, crop rotation and proper watering are essential for preventing these diseases, too.
You can harvest your eggplant whenever fruits stop rowing and the skin becomes glossy. You don’t necessarily need to wait for a massive fruit to appear in order to harvest.
In fact, harvesting small, ripe fruits more often will yield to a large overall bounty, as it will encourage the plant to put out more blossoms and fruit.
You should never let more than five or six fruits hang on a plant, as this can result in smaller, more bitter-tasting fruits.
Most eggplants are ready for you to begin harvest around 65 to 80 days after transplanting. This, of course, depends on the variety. Some types of eggplant can be harvested up to twice per week!
Once your plants are ripe, you can remove them by clipping the stems with gardening shears. Leave a bit of the stem attached. It’s important that you don’t just pull and twist the eggplant from the plant.
This can cause these them to break, which will lead to disease on the plant, and rot on the fruit.
Wait until the fruit is glossy at the time of harvesting. This way, you can prevent the likelihood of fate fruit tasting bitter (which happens if you pluck overripe or underripe fruits).
Once you harvest your plants, rinse them clean, then pat dry.
Eggplant can be stored in the fridge for about a week. However, keep in mind that it will discolor and dry out quickly as soon as it is cut open.
Don’t cut into your eggplant until you are ready to use it. You can also use a marinade with a mixture of salt, lemon juice, and vinegar to prevent the pieces from darkening.
Eggplants can store for a week or so in the refrigerator – they aren’t the longest-lived vegetables you’ll find. However, there are plenty of other preservation methods you can try, too. One of the most popular is pickling.
Pickled eggplant is absolutely delicious and requires only a water bath canner to produce a supply that will last well into the winter months.
You should never process eggplant in a pressure canner, though, as there aren’t any recipes that are proven to work well for this vegetable.
You can also freeze eggplant, although you may find that the texture is a bit compromised afterward.
This method of preserving eggplant works well if you intend to use it as a puree or in a soup or similar fashion after thawing it.
You can even dehydrate eggplant! Eggplant chips are delicious and nutritious, and they’ll hold up for several months when stored in a cool, dry location.
Eggplant tastes great when fried, grilled, breaded, roasted, or baked. If you plan on grilling and roasting your eggplant, choose a Japanese eggplant type. If you’d rather cook it in a traditional fashion, go for a standard variety, like Black Beauty.
Native to India, eggplant loves the heat, but can be grown in just about any climate – you just have to get creative! It is a popular vegetable that should have a place in every gardener’s plot – what kinds of eggplant will you choose to grow?
The post How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Eggplant appeared first on The Homesteading Hippy.