Sunday, July 31, 2022

August 2022 Edible Garden Planner

August edible garden
Sunday, July 31, 2022

With the dog days of summer, comes peak harvests of summer vegetables.  Sweet corn, tomatoes, summer squashes (like zucchini and yellow straight neck), peppers of all types (sweet and hot), Mediterranean herbs, cucumbers, okra, apples, peaches, pears, grapes, snap beans, melons, figs, eggplant, honey, artichokes, tomatillos are all in season this month.

At the same time, it is also the month to plant for all and winter harvests.  It can be hard to make room for new seedlings, but your pantry will thank you in the cool days that are coming.

A secret to maximizing your fruiting vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, snap beans, tomatillos, and summer squash is to harvest them continuously.  A plant’s driving force is to reproduce so by continuing to harvest, it causes the plant to put on more fruits.  There are many options to preserve the extras: Freezing the extras for winter, drying Dehydrate or sun dry your extra veggies, canning Easy, low tox canning of summer's bounty, and pickling Make your own pickles without a store bought seasoning mix.

Continue to fertilize with a natural, organic fertilizer every month for veggies in the ground and semiweekly for those in containers.  When fertilizing, scratch the fertilizer into the soil around the plant.  Nitrogen is the one component of fertilizing that is most used during the season.  If you leave the fertilizer on top of the ground, you will need twice as much as the nitrogen will off gas into the atmosphere if not covered.  Summer garden tips

Keeping consistent moisture to your plants is key.  Irregular watering causes tomatoes to crack and blossom end rot.  Make sure your garden is getting water weekly either from rain or watering, being sure to water deeply at the base of the plant and not on the leaves.  Many warm weather lovers like squash, tomatoes and cucumbers are susceptible to fungal diseases.  If your garden is susceptible to fungal diseases, you can continue using a natural preventative fungicide spray weekly to keep it at bay and boost your garden's production.
Summer peppers and tomatoes
If you had any lettuce from early planting, they will have bolted by now.  Take the flower heads off and save the seed.  You can shake the seeds into your self watering pots to get your fall lettuce growing.  I have pots at 3 different stages of growth going right now to keep us in fresh salads.  Lettuce will not sprout if the soil temperature is above 75 degrees F.  You can start your seeds indoors or in a cool, shady spot in the garden and then move to permanent spot. 

Planting for fall and winter vegetables
I know it sounds crazy, but now is the time to start planting for fall and winter harvests.  You need to plant early enough for your veggies to be full size when frosts hit.  Add 14 days to the days to maturity listed on the seed packet and back it up from your last frost date for the time to plant your seeds. 

Daylight hours determine the growth rate of plants.  Since the days are getting shorter, it will take longer for the plants to come to full maturity in the waning daylight hours of fall than the lengthening hours of spring.  By the first of November, all growth has come to a full standstill until the beginning of January.  

If you can't pick up transplants like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, and herbs at big box stores or a local nursery, you can get transplants from on line nurseries if you want to go that route.  Farmers markets may also have them.  

I have started doing more from seed.  I re-use 6 pack containers or peat pots, put starting mix in them, water well, then add seeds, covering with soil per packet instructions.  I just leave them on our covered deck in a tray so that I can keep them moist.  Seeds sprout super fast this time of year.  The other advantage is that they are already acclimated to the summer temps so do well when transplanted when started outdoors.  

Fall planting guide for cool season crops
August is the month for the rest of the greens (arugula, corn salad, lettuce, miner’s lettuce, spinach, mustard, endive), kohlrabi, onions, scallions, cabbage plants, radishes, peas, fava beans and turnips. 

In September, plant more greens, carrots, and radishes.  For our Zone 7a garden, the first 2 weeks of September are prime for planting lettuce.  Try different cold hardy varieties planted at the same time.  Different varieties mature at different times, giving you an on-going harvest. 

October is the month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......

For more details on varieties to plant, Cold season crops for your edible garden

Caring for your new seeds and transplants
Like in the spring, newly sown seeds need moisture to sprout.  Keep seeds and transplants moist but not wet until they get their first real set of leaves and are well established.  Then water as needed.  

Many crops can be harvested into December and beyond without any cover, depending on how cold fall is.  Some get sweeter with some frost, like carrots, chard, and lettuce.  With cover, you can harvest all the way through winter and get a jump start on spring!

Below is the portable greenhouse I use.  I can get 10 pots under its cover.  It could also be placed directly in the garden as well.  I use it to extend the fall and winter harvest for potted greens, broccoli and cabbage.   Prepare for hard freeze 

My portable greenhouse
A quick reminder, save the seeds from your best performers to plant next year!  You can replant seeds from any heirlooms or open pollinated plants.  Not only does it save you money, but it also gives you the plants that do the best under your garden and zone conditions.  

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Root for fall!

Overwintering onions
Saturday, July 30, 2022

This time of year, many of us are rooting for fall to get here sooner rather than later!  A great thing about fall and winter edible gardens is little to no pests!  The insects die off in fall so your harvest is safe from pest destruction.  Once you have spent the effort to get the plants established and cool weather is here, fall and winter gardening is very low maintenance.  

Root crops are great fall and winter veggies.   As it gets cooler, root crops get sweeter, too, as the sugars get concentrated.

For more on fall and winter edible gardening, see these posts.  

Root veggies are about the easiest and most carefree veggies you can grow in an edible garden.  They have little pest or disease problems even in spring.  With the colder temps in fall and winter, pests and disease practically disappear.  In addition with cold weather, you can keep the roots in the ground until you are ready to eat them.

Fall and winter roots you can grow are beets, burdock, carrots, celeriac, fennel, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, parsnips, radishes, root parsley, rutabaga, salsify, scallions, scorzonera and turnips.  When planting for fall, the days are getting shorter.  The DTH (days to harvest) shared on seed packets are based on spring planting.  Since the day length is getting shorter this time of year, add 2 weeks to what the seed packet shares to get a better estimate to when your root crops will be at full size for harvesting.

Our summers are hot and dry.  If yours are too, be sure to keep the soil moist after sowing seeds.

The trick for fall and winter harvesting is to make sure your crops are at full size before the day length gets so short and temperatures so cool that all growth basically stops.  A good rule of thumb is to target for your veggies to be at full size by your first average frost date. 

Below is a general planting schedule if starting from seed.  There are faster and slower maturing varieties out there for these veggies, so check the seed packet for more precise planting times.
Carrots, celeriac, fennel, leeks, parsnips, root parsley, rutabaga, salsify, scorzonera and scallions.

Beets, carrots, kohlrabi, onions, rutabaga, scallions, radishes, scallions and turnips. 

Plant more carrots, radishes, and scallions.  

The month to plant garlic for next year’s harvest and over-wintering onions.  Order your favorites early as many sell out quick.  Time to plant garlic! With growing tips......

If you don’t want to start seeds, some big box stores and local nurseries have begun to have fall planting veggies.   If none in your area do, there are many mail order seed companies that carry fall bedding plants.  Late August, early September is the best time to get transplants into the garden for fall and winter harvests.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Quick and fresh homemade salsa

Mid summer harvest
Saturday, July 23, 2022

Here is our homemade and very quick salsa recipe using everything from the garden.  It is a little on the spicy side, so you may want to cut back on the hot peppers if you like a milder taste. 
Homemade homegrown salsa recipe:
 Quart of thawed frozen homegrown tomatoes 
1 cayenne-frozen, thawed or fresh off the vine
1 jalapeno-frozen, thawed or fresh off the vine
1 bell pepper-frozen, thawed or fresh off the vine
1 fresh onion, 
a couple of cloves of garlic-fresh or pickled
a healthy handful of cilantro or tarragon
Throw them all into the food processor and viola!  Fresh, spicy salsa.

All the extra tomatoes that come off the vine, I will slice up and freeze so I can use the rest of the year.  Any frozen from the previous year goes into sauce in the fall.  I wait until it is cooler before I can!  Preserving the tomato harvest

I do the same with sweet and hot peppers, freeze the extras that we can't eat fresh.  I freeze the small ones whole and slice up the larger sweet peppers.  They retain their flavor for a couple of years without blanching.  Preserving peppers

As the cilantro goes to seed, I use tarragon as a substitute.  It adds a slightly different taste, but is still quite good.

For garlic, I pickle my harvest so it lasts for years in the refrigerator.  Have garlic any time you need it, just pickle some!

I haven't had the best of luck with large bulbing onions in the garden, but the Egyptian walking onions do great in the garden or in a pot!  For this salsa recipe, I pull one onion and use both the bulb and the stalk.  Egyptian walking onions

Sunday, July 17, 2022

What's happening in the mid July edible garden

Baby peppers on potted pepper plant
Sunday, July 17, 2022

We are harvesting tomatoes, herbs, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, Red Malabar spinach, Chinese Multi Color Spinach, amaranth, Love Lies Bleeding amaranth, and sprouting broccoli.  Petunias, zinnias, fairy lilies, daylilies, marigolds, lantana, gardenia, Love Lies Bleeding, Cock's Comb are all blooming.  We are in a moderate drought so are having to water the pots 2-3 times per week and the garden beds weekly.

We have gotten more heat than usual this year.  Peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, okra, snap beans, and squash are all behind where they normally are for this time of year.  I just started getting baby eggplants and squash.  The peppers and beans are flowering but no fruits yet except for the cayenne that I overwintered in the basement.  It has been fruiting I put it outside in May.

Tomatoes are way behind this year.  I have flowers and baby tomatoes on all the plants except the Brandywine.  I am getting a few ripe ones each week.  One tomato plant has died.  The others don't look great but most are still growing.  I planted them in a new spot this year in soil that has not been enriched so I am not surprised they aren't flourishing.  Neighbors tomatoes are just starting to turn red.  

Oregano in bloom
Our basil isn't very big yet.  I planted them late as I didn't get my seedlings transplanted when I should have, but they are growing nicely.  Be able to get my first harvest for pesto in a couple of weeks.  It will regrow to give me at least one more good harvest before fall.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Oregano is in bloom.  The bees love the purple flowers!  I need to check to see if I have enough herbs for the winter to make my herb blend or if I need to harvest and dry some herbs this summer.  Harvest and preserve your herbs

Lettuce gone to seed
I fertilized all the pots again as well as the veggies in the garden.  It is good to fertilize pots biweekly and garden plants monthly during the growing season to give them the nutrition they need to produce well. Summer edible garden tips
Most of the lettuce has gone to seed.  When you see the white fuzzies, they are ready to save.  I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator.  You can also leave them on the plant and you will get volunteer lettuce plants.  I need to re-seed my pots with some of the seeds.  It takes a couple of weeks for them to be of baby lettuce size to harvest.  I may have to start the seeds indoors because lettuce doesn't germinate very well if soil temperatures are about 70-75 degrees F.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds  Seed saving-fun, easy and a cost saver

In the greens department, summer is a hard time for most.  Sprouting broccoli, some lettuce, different types of sorrel, leafy cabbage and amaranth, sprouting broccoli, arugula, dandelion greens, chard, lettuce, kale, cress and herbs are all available.  The heat increases the sharpness of most of the traditional greens.  

Succession planting of lettuce and planting types that are resistant to bolting can keep your lettuce crop going.  Plant them in the coolest part of the yard where they are not in full sun all day and get shade in the afternoon.  Pots are a good option to be able to move them to the cooler part of the yard.  Growing summer salads  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces

I added a couple of varieties of greens that have a similar taste to spinach and lettuce a few years ago.  Red Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, sprouting broccoli, and Hilton Chinese cabbage are now staples in my summer greens garden.  They are not true spinach or lettuce but have similar flavor and are heat tolerant.  They don't get bitter in the heat.  

If you have extras of chard, dandelion greens, sprouting broccoli, sorrel, sprouting broccoli, kale or cabbage, you can blanch and freeze them for steamed winter greens.  Freezing the extras for winter

I am growing Trombone squash this summer in place of zucchini because they are robust against disease and squash bugs.  I have baby fruits on the vine.  The vine does grow very large so make sure you have the space for it to either grow up or sprawl.  You can harvest young for the taste of summer squash or leave on the vine and harden for winter squash.  I'll use them as summer squash.  We love grilled zucchini.  What we don't eat fresh, I will make into zoodles for pasta substitute and freeze them.  You can also dry them to use in soups or roasts over the winter.   What to do with all that zucchini?!
The annual flowers are doing well in the garden right now.  They attract all kinds of beautiful butterflies and moths as well as bees.  I love watching all the bees and butterflies that are visiting the garden. 

Key chores to keep the summer garden producing is to pick often, make sure plants have even moisture, keep ahead of pests, and give the plants the nutrition they need to keep going. 

This time of year, it is so nice to be able to walk through the garden and pick what is ripe for dinner and watch the garden grow.  

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Summer edible garden tips

Potted eggplant and petunia
Saturday, July 16, 2022

The summer loving edibles from the tropics love this time of year.  My eggplant, cucumber and squash plants seem to be growing inches every day!  The crops from temperate regions like peppers, tomatoes, beans, peppers and Mediterranean herbs are also growing quite well.  The humidity brings higher risk of disease and the lack of rain during peak summer heat can put a damper on garden production.  

To keep your plants thriving and your harvests at their peak, here are a few tips for summer edibles:
  1. Harvest frequently!  Plants are in the business of reproducing.  Their entire life is dedicated to giving the best possible chance of maintaining more plants for the future.  The more you harvest, the more babies the plant will produce.  I have noticed that my cucumber plant can only support one large cucumber on each vine.  As soon as I pick the big one, you can see one of the small ones jump in size by the very next day!  Harvest in the morning for peak juiciness of fruits and in the afternoon for peak flavor of summer loving herbs.
  2. Mulch your beds. The mulch keeps the moisture from evaporating, allowing more infrequent watering.  It also moderates the temperature of the soil so it doesn’t get baking hot.  I use natural wood mulch in both my garden beds and pots.  Weed free, self fertilizing, till free garden beds
  3. Water consistently.  The cause of cracked fruits is inconsistent water.   The plant gets used to very little water and when deluged the fruit’s skin can’t expand fast enough and the fruit cracks.  Inconsistent watering can also cause blossom end rot.  Over watering can be a problem, too.  Too much water will cause your fruits to be tasteless and mushy.  If in the ground, your plants need either a good soaking rain each week or a deep watering (1" total per week).  I use soaker hoses in my mulched garden beds.  It is best to water in the morning; you get maximum absorption (biggest bang for your water buck).  For pots, you will likely need to water 3 times per week during the height of summer heat.  I like pots with a water reservoir built in the bottom.  
  4. Do not water the foliage of your nightshade plants!  They are very susceptible to fungal diseases and water on their leaves encourages fungal growth.  It is recommended to spray every 7-14 days for natural fungicides on all nightshade plants (tomatoes, potatoes, squash, watermelon, and cucumbers) when the risk for fungal disease starts.  In our Zone 7 garden,  late May is not too early to start preventative spraying.  I rotate using Copper, Serenade and Southern Ag as a preventative.
  5. Fertilize monthly with side dressing of compost or slow release fertilizer.  It is also a good idea to add minerals to the soil annually.  You can purchase minerals just for gardening.  I like to rotate between Azomite and kelp meal.  If your plants have more minerals, their fruits will too!  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals
  6. Pick insects off daily.  Keep a close eye on your plants to you can stop an infestation before it gets started.  If I do get an really bad infestation, I will use diacotomus earth (DE) or insecticidal soap.  It is organic and not a chemical.  Some people even eat DE!  DE works by scratching the exoskeleton of the insects which leads to dehydration and death.  Be careful, though, as it will kill good bugs too.  I use it very sparingly and only if desperate.  A few bugs don’t eat much :  )  Another option is the use of light covers to keep the bugs from your plants.  Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays
  7. Keep any diseased leaves groomed from your plants and do not compost them.  Diseases can be killed if your compost pile is hot enough but if not at high enough temperature and duration, disease will survive composting.  I haven’t progressed far enough yet in my composting skills to trust I am getting the pile hot enough and I don’t want to spread diseases to all my plants.  I put any diseased leaves and plants in the trash.
  8. Compost.  For all the trimmings from the garden and the kitchen, start a compost pile or get an indoor composter.  I have both.  I have an indoor Naturemill electric composter in the garage and an outdoor tumbler for all the kitchen scraps.  Right now,  I am using the outdoor plastic tumbler.  Troubleshooting your compost pile  
  9. Summer veggies can get tired by the end of the season or overcome with disease.  A strategy to make sure you have an abundant harvest all the way through fall is to plant a second round of the heavy producers like summer squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  End of June is a great time to get a second round of summer lovers going.  Keep the harvest going, do succession planting
  10. If you live an area with scorching heat and sun, even the summer lovers would benefit from some afternoon shade.  Tomato and pepper fruits can get sunburned, called sun scald.  Many eggplant varieties can get thick skins and a more bitter taste in intense heat and sun.  Even in our Zone 7 garden, I have experienced all these.  You can move potted plants or plant on the southeast side to get your veggies some afternoon shade.  I did try shade cloth last year, but the plants did not seem to thrive in our Zone 7 garden under shade cloth cover.

Monday, July 4, 2022

July 2022 Edible Garden Planner

Late July harvest-peppers, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers
Monday, July 4, 2022

July is the time of year for harvesting the heat lovers like tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, all types of peppers, basil and other Mediterranean herbs.  It is also the time to plant for fall harvests.

I got my summer garden going late this year.  Typically all my summer veggies are being harvested at this time-peppers, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, and green beans.  This year, I have harvested only one tomato and overwintered peppers.  There are lots and lots of baby tomatoes and cucumbers.  There are flowers on the potatoes, eggplant and pole beans.  No flowers yet for okra or this year's peppers.  They all love thrive in hot weather so will be producing within the month of July.  It is typical to have the first ripe tomato on the 4th of July in our area.  Small tomato varieties are usually the first to ripen.

By the end of the month, there will be more summer veggies than we can eat and we will start preserving the extra.  Preservation garden

On the bright side, the lettuce planted in late April is bolting but many have leaves that are still sweet.  Butter King and Bronze Beauty are doing great!  Red Malabar spinach is growing robustly and I have been harvesting from them weekly.  Red Malabar and New Zealand spinach greens love summer heat and humidity so are great substitutes for cool loving spinach.  My other favorite summer salad greens are salad burnet, Swiss chard, collards, mustard greens, green and purple orach, multi colored Chinese amaranth, sorrel, sprouting broccoli, cultivated dandelions, tyron, kale, and Hilton Chinese mustard.  Growing summer salads

The early spring lettuce is getting close to flowering and producing seed.  When you see the white fuzzies on lettuce stalks, they are ready to save the seed.  I just pull the seed heads, break apart, put in a ziplock freezer bag, label with type and date, and store in the refrigerator.  I will re-seed my self watering pots with some of the seeds.  Never ending salad from one packet of seeds  

It is best to start new lettuce seed every 3 weeks to keep yourself supplied for salads.  This time of year, do start the heat tolerant varieties.  Bolt-free, sweet summer lettuces  Next round will be the fall and winter varieties that have cold tolerance.  Succession planting is key for keeping lettuce in the heat of the summer.  Start your lettuce seeds in a cool spot as they won't sprout when the ground is above 75 F.  You can start them in a pot indoors and then take outside when they have sprouted.
Pole green beans on trellis
The pole snap and lima beans have just started growing in earnest.  When they start producing, harvest them daily to keep them producing.  I keep a quart bag in the freezer and add mature green beans as they are ready for picking.  Legumes-peas for spring, beans for summer

I put my overwintered garlic cloves in a pot this year to just keep the types that have worked well in my garden going.  Garlic harvest time is typically this time of year.  After pulling, be sure to harden off in a shaded area.  After two weeks, the cloves can be brought indoors for storing.  Hardening is critical for the garlic to not rot when stored.  I love elephant garlic as the cloves are as their name suggests, they are huge!  Save the biggest cloves for replanting in the fall.  Garlic harvest time is near!  My favorite way to preserve garlic is to pickle them in apple cider vinegar with a few hot peppers and store in the frig.  Have garlic any time you need it, just pickle some!

Our basil has been slow to get started.  The trick to keeping the plants from getting woody is to make sure to harvest down to the first few sets of leaves before the plants go in to full flower.  I get two-three good harvests before fall.  Basil basics-harvesting, preserving, growing basil

Lavender has finished blooming, catnip and oregano are just about to bust out in full bloom mode.  The bees love small flowers!  All can be cut and dried now, but I love the dainty flowers, too, and will wait until fall.  Make your own "Herbes de Provence"

I fertilized all the pots again as well as the basil and tomatoes to keep it growing.  Pots lose nutrients at a much higher rate than garden beds.  I am using a liquid fertilizer for all the potted plants at least every other week and using a solid fertilizer monthly around each plant.  I like Espoma since it is an all natural product.  I use their tomato fertilizer for all fruit producing plants and their general purpose vegetable fertilizer for all other veggie and herb plants.  If the plants need just nitrogen (leaves are yellowish and not dark green), I use blood meal or a liquid fish emulsion.  Decorative container gardening for edibles

I have been using a mineral supplement in spring for my plants for the last few years, both the garden bed, pots and the potting soil I make.  Right now I alternate between Azomite and kelp meal each year.  So many soils are low in minerals and micronutrients.  Your plants can't absorb what the soil does not have.  If your plants get a big boost when you add minerals to the soil, you know that it was needed.  Adding minerals to the plants and soil will significantly increase the minerals in the plant itself, giving you minerals in the veggies you eat.  The next step in garden production and your nutrition-soil minerals

A key to keeping the garden productive this time of year is to keep even moisture to all the beds and containers.  Water the beds weekly and deeply; they need a good inch of water a week.  During hot, dry periods, your containers may need watering every other day.  Self-watering pots with reservoirs in the bottom are the trick to extending watering duties.  Summer garden tips

If you are getting higher than normal rainfall, you'll need to fertilize more often as the rain with wash away the nutrients.  Keep an eye on the growth of your veggies and if they are not growing and producing as expected, they may need some extra food.  

The wild blackberries are running behind normal this year.  The berries are red and should be ripe in the next week.  I'll start picking as soon as they are ripe.  You have to get them quickly or the critters will beat you to it.  Do leave some for the wildlife.  My strawberries are producing well.  Back yard strawberries 

Finally, there are many summer flowers in bloom.  The hollyhocks, daylilies, petunias, echinacea, carrots, fairy lilies, amaranth, zinnias, celosia as well as many herbs are all in full bloom.  The  sunflowers, gladiolis, morning glory, hummingbird vine, sedum, jasmine vine are behind this year, but will be blooming later in July.  The early spring mustard, carrots, and broccoli have all bolted and are flowering.  The bees just love their tiny flowers!  Flowers are not only beautiful, but attract pollinators making the garden more productive.  
A butterfly on zinnias in the edible garden
This is the month to start your seeds and seedlings for fall and winter harvests.  You have to start early so they are at full size before frost.  Time to plant for fall and winter harvests! 

Pests and fungus can also be a problem during this time of year with the hot temperatures and high humidity.  I was proactive with fungus last year since we had so much rain using organic preventative spraying every 7-10 days.  I switched between copper fungicide, Serenade and Southern Ag for my peonies, roses, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and watermelon plants.  This year is much drier so I have not been spraying.   Preventing and treating powdery mildew

You can try and stay ahead of pests by monitoring the garden closely and picking off the pests.  If they do get the best of you, here are some natural ways to combat them.  Natural, organic pest strategies and how to make your own bug sprays    If you want to let pests come into natural balance, the rule of thumb is that it takes about 7 years for the "good" bugs and other "bad" bug predators like toads, birds, lizards, to take up residence in your garden to keep the "bad" bugs in check.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Everything you need to know to grow eggplant

Black Beauty eggplant in container with petunias
Sunday, July 3, 2022

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.  Large eggplant varieties are stunning plants in pots with their upright habit and large leaves.  I like to pair them with petunias on the patio and deck. 

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, C, K, folate vitamins, and copper, iron, magnesium and potassium.  eggplant nutrition info

 Ideally, eggplant should be started indoors 6-8 weeks prior to the last frost date (for Zone 7, this is end of February/first of March).  They are heat loving veggies that need some time to start producing fruit.  If you don't get them started early or just want the convenience, there are many varieties available at nurseries and big box stores.

Transplant outdoors after all danger of frost has passed, 18-24" apart in full sun.  Fertilize when transplanting with a balanced organic/all natural fertilizer.  Fertilize again with the first flowers appear to support the growth of fruits, then monthly if planted in the garden bed.  For those planted in pots, I add solid fertilizer monthly and give a liquid fertilizer when I water every 2 weeks.  The plants like moisture so don't be stingy with water.

Eggplants, like peppers and tomatoes, are perennials.  You can bring them indoors at the end of the season and with direct sun, continue producing.  If they survive the winter, they will produce sooner and have bigger yields next summer.  I have had mixed luck overwintering mine in our unheated garage.  This winter, my white eggplant overwintered well inside the house in a southern window.  I have already started harvesting its fruits.

Eggplants grow well in pots.  This is my preferred way to grow eggplants.  Look for dwarfs or patio types like Casper, Listada de Gandia, White Egg or Fairytale, or plant in a larger container.  

If you have grown eggplant in the past and experienced a tough outer skin, slight bitterness of taste and many seeds, you need to pick the fruits sooner.  As the fruits ripen on the vine, they will get a thicker skin, more and larger seeds.   You can also look for varieties that are better adapted to hot and humid climates.  

We have found any white fruiting eggplant work great in our hot and humid summers.  They don't get bitter and their skins don't get tough.  Rosa Bianca and Amadeo have also stayed sweet with thin skins. This year, I am growing White, Italian Pink Bicolor, Rotanda Bianca, Mitayo, Amadeo, AO Daimara, and Turkish Orange in pots.  Turkish Orange has a smokey flavor and smaller orange fruits. It's fun to try new varieties while keeping proven performers.

White eggplant ripening
I use Espoma vegetable fertilizer on all my vegetables, fruits and potted plants.  Before I moved, I could also get Re-Vita fertilizer which is also a good organic fertilizer.  You can also make your own all natural fertilizer pretty economically.  Make your own all natural, complete fertilizer

All 6 newly transplanted eggplants are growing well now that it has heated up.  I got started much later this year than typical because we had a long, cool spring again this year.  Eggplants are heat lovers so I wait until it is at least up in the 70's before I transplant outdoors.  

When fruits come on, be sure to harvest regularly.  There are 2 good reasons.  One-the more you pick, the more the plant produces.  Two-the fruits are sweeter and skins thinner on younger fruits.

The only pest I've found with eggplants are flea beetles.  They seem to just love the White eggplant leaves.  They eat them until there is hardly anything left but the veins.  I tried to let the pest "come in balance" and didn't treat with anything, but afte 5 years with no slowing in sight I started using insecticidal soap to knock them back last year.  Plants need their leaves to produce food for the plant and its fruits!  You might also be able to use nasturtium as a decoy plant to attract the flea beetles away from the eggplants.  This has not worked for me to date.

Eggplant can be baked, steamed or grilled.  My favorites are brushing on olive oil and salt and grilling until tender, stuffing and baking, using as lasagna noodles, or slicing and topping with parmesan cheese and backing until the cheese is crisp.  I do the same with zucchini.  Keep the grill temp below 350 or substitute grape seed oil that has a higher smoke point.

I have tried blanching eggplant and freezing them.  They just don't taste the same.  Last year, I grilled them and then made them into dip.  After frozen, the dip still tasted great.  I'll do the same with any extras I have this year.

We love both eggplant and zucchini grilled.  Here are the recipes I use for eggplant and zucchini  What to do with all that zucchini?!