Sunday, July 6, 2014

Eggplant 101-how to grow this native from India

Black Beauty eggplant in container with petunias

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Eggplant is easy to grow.  It is happy in a pot or the ground. Eggplants are tropical plants and require a long growing season to fruit.  You will still get fruits by purchasing a plant and putting in your garden or container now.  It’s not too late to enjoy this tasty veggie for the season!

Eggplant is a staple in Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern, and many Asian cuisines.  It is used as a substitute for meat in many dishes.  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.

Eggplant contains fiber, antioxidants that have potential health effects against cancer, B vitamins (B1, B3, B5), and minerals copper, iron, manganese, potassium.

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).  They are heat loving veggies that require a long growing season so it is important to get them started indoors or purchase them as plants.  

Transplant after all danger of frost has passed 18-24” apart in full sun.  Fertilize when transplanted with a balanced organic/all natural fertilizer.  I then fertilize when the first flowers appear and then monthly for those in the garden bed.  Pots need more frequent replenishment of nutrients.  When growing in pots, keep in a sunny location, fertilize every other week and keep soil moist.

Eggplants, like peppers and tomatoes, are perennials.  You can bring them indoors for the winter and take them back out after all danger of frost has passed.  They will produce much sooner and have bigger yields for the season as the plants are already established and full size.

Eggplants grow well in pots as well.  Look for dwarfs or patio types like Casper, Listada de Gandia, White Egg or Fairytale or plant in a larger container.  We found that the white seemed to tolerate heat waves without turning bitter.  We have also grown the Rosa Bianca in a large pot and it did well.  
White eggplant ripening

This year, I have a Black Beauty eggplant in a pot that housed onions last year (it is good practice to rotate crop types in pots each year).  It is doing fantastic!  I use Espoma vegetable fertilizer or Re-Vita fertilizer on all my vegetables, fruits, and potted plants.  My potted eggplant has several little babies on it right now.

I have “Ivory” eggplant in my garden bed.  It has blooms on it and is much shorter in stature than the “Black Beauty.”  I have recently seeded an orange Turkish eggplant.  I will bring in both potted plants to overwinter.  t’ll be fun to compare the production and flavor of the three varieties.

When the fruits come on, make sure to harvest regularly as soon as they ripen.  If you leave them on the plant, they will get seedy and bitter. Not only will the  fruit lose flavor, the plant will slow down production significantly.

Eggplant can be baked, steamed or grilled.  My two favorites are stuffing them with sausage in a tomato sauce and baking or brushing on olive oil, seasoning with sea salt and grilling.  If you grill above 350 F, substitute grape seed oil for olive oil.

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