Sunday, May 28, 2017

Eggplant-add this native from India to your garden


Potted Black Beauty eggplant with petunias

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Eggplant is easy to grow in our Zone 6 garden.  It is happy in a pot or the ground.  There is an amazing array of varieties of eggplant.  I thought for years that eggplant only came in the large, dark purple Black Beauty so popular in Italian cuisine.  In fact, there are long, skinny fruits, apple sized fruits, hourglass shaped fruits, and yellow, orange, white, green, purple, red, lavender colored fruits.  The fruits can be grilled, smoked, chopped and roasted, or stuffed.

Eggplant is a staple in Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern, and many Asian cuisines.  This fruiting vegetable originated in India and has been cultivated there for thousands of years.  It had made its way to the Mediterranean region by the Middle Ages.  It is used as a substitute for meat in many dishes like eggplant parmesan we see so often in our local Italian restaurants.  
The variety in eggplants
Eggplant contains fiber, antioxidants, vitamins C, K, folate and minerals potassium and manganese.  For more details on the health benefits, check out SELF magazine’s eggplant nutritional info

Eggplant should be started indoors 6-8 weeks prior to the last frost date (for Zone 6, this is end of Feb/first of March).  Or you can buy plants and transplant after all danger of frost has passed 18-24” apart in full sun.  

They are heat loving veggies that require a long growing season so it is important to get seedlings started indoors or purchase them as plants.  Fertilize when transplanted with a balanced fertilizer and then monthly after first blooms appear.  Being part of the nightshade family, tomato fertilizer works well for eggplants as well.  I have not experienced any pest issues when growing eggplant.

Eggplants grow every well in pots.  The soil in pots warms up quicker in early summer and stays warmer than garden soil, giving these heat lovers an early boost.  When planting in pots, look for dwarfs or patio types like Casper, Listada de Gandia, White Egg or Fairytale or use a large container.  

We have also grown the Rosa Bianca and Black Beauty in a large pot and both did well.  When growing in pots, keep in a sunny location, fertilize every other week and keep soil moist.  
Turkish Orange eggplant in a container

A tip when growing eggplant is to harvest when the fruits are young.  As they stay on the vine, they produce more seeds, their skin becomes tougher, and the fruit more bitter.  In addition to loss of taste, you will also have loss of productivity.  Harvesting often keeps the plant focused on producing more fruits.

Eggplant can be smoked, baked, steamed or grilled.  My two favorites are stuffing them with sausage with my homemade tomato sauce and baking or brushing on olive oil, seasoning with sea salt and grilling.  Our favorite varieties so far have been the smaller white eggplants andTurkish orange for grilling and Black Beauty for stuffing. 

This year, I am going to try smoking some fruits and making into baba ghanoush.  We had this in a Turkish restaurant with pita bread and it was quite tasty.

Since eggplant is a tropical perennial, you can bring it indoors at the end of the season to overwinter.  This gives you a 6-8 week head start on harvests next year.  This is a great way to keep your favorite.  You can also save the seed from your best fruits to use next season.

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