Meet Rosa Bianca, an Eggplant…and her photographer, Kim Grove, who Designs Gardens for People with Dementia.
And you thought your eggplant were just being temperamental! Well that’s exactly right! TEMPeramental! Eggplant fruit set is best when night temps are 60 degrees or more. Our coastal Santa Barbara night temps are still in the 50s. BUT if you read an Oregon site, they say night temps for Solanaceae, toms, peppers, eggplant, fruit set need to be 50 or above. Since we have lots of tomatoes at 1 to 2″ diameters at our community garden right now, and our night temps have been in the 50s, I would say they are right! So you lucky gardeners with blooming eggies, are going to be having eggplant babies! The warmer the weather the deeper the purple color!
First plantings are usually in March; June is fine for last rounds of smaller fruited varieties. There are several types of eggplants, the big fat pear shaped Black Beauties, slender chic Japanese longs, and many new different colored varieties and shapes on the market. If you have a short growing season, or a cool location, choose early-ripening eggplant varieties and start with large transplants. My favorite is Japanese longs because I can cut them in perfect strips to layer my lasagna!
Blue Marble Hybrid and Millionaire Hybrid are best for container gardening or for closer spacing. Ichiban produces abundant, tender, sweet, purple-skinned fruit 4 to 6 inches long, is easy to grow. And there is a “tomato-fruited” variety! More fun by the minute!
Special care! Remember, eggies like humidity! Since they like humid, you can understand they don’t like wind. A little shelter is lovely. That’s why closer spacing or more closely planted among, between, other plants works well. Early mulches can be dark colored to bring heat. When it gets hot, lay on some reflective straw that when moistened makes a sauna effect, keeps soil cool, but is humid topside!
Soil These beauties love well drained rich organic soil, well composted, as well as super organic fertilizer like blood meal, well-rotted manure, cottonseed meal or bat guano. Be sure to use the ‘right’ bat guano. They will root to a depth of 3 to 4 feet, so a barrier free (no rocks) sandy or silt loam is ideal.
Eggplants are hungry. They like to be fed, but small amounts spread over summer. Otherwise it’s all leaf and no fruit. Seabird guano, slow to breakdown to be available to your plants, is great to add at planting time for later blooming! Feed them for sure after your first fruits are harvested.
Oh, and they like lots of water too. To avoid flower and fruit drop, water deeply and regularly, especially during long, dry periods. For that fine eggplant taste, just like with lettuce, we want rapid growth and fruit maturity.
Healthy, generously producing eggplants often need support while they have those heavy fruits. Put small tomato cages over them when they are little plants for support later on. Also, some growers remove lower leaves and flowers so fruits can’t touch the ground and get fruit rot. Another reason to use cages. No slouching eggplants! Also remove those lover leaves to slow down the Verticillium wilt. Though the wilt is also wind borne, the main way it is taken up by your plant is from infected soil contact.
Disease, Eggplant Varieties Verticillium wilt is the main disease in eggplants. Sadly, there’s not much we can do about it. Leaves brown and die. All varieties are susceptible, some more than others. Oregon varieties that thrive in their cooler weather, are Dusky, Epic, Bambino (round), Cloud Nine, Black Bell, Calliope, Burpee Hybrid, Millionaire, (elongated), Megal, Bride, Orient Express. All of these varieties have shown tolerance to verticillium.
Pests Pest prevention can be rotating your crop every other year or so, if you have space. Keep pest habitat to a minimum. That means weed regularly and remove debris. Row covers help keep pests away. Plant trap crops the pests like better, like radish for flea beetles. Use insecticidal soaps to get rid of those frustrating pests if there are too many. Flea beetles may be tiny, but the little devils suck the life out of your plant, interrupt your plant’s life, lower it’s general health and definitely production. Boo. Other Pests are aphids, lace bugs, whiteflies, and red spider mites. See UC Davis Eggplant problems diagnosed.
Harvest Eggplants take about 11 weeks to make those beautiful fruits. Long skinny varieties take a little more time, and the small Easter egg types, less. To get them soonest, at planting time lay in some black plastic ground cover, or cover with a spun fabric row cover. As they grow, the row cover will also protect them from pests like flea beetles. As your eggplant grow, you can cover them with a cloche. Make your own cloche or hot cap by cutting out the bottom of a gallon plastic milk jug. Cover your plants until the first hot stretch of summer. Remember to uncover them during hot midday.
Harvest on time to keep them coming. When that fruit is firm and shiny, pick it! No storing on the plant. FYI Depending on the market and plant vigor, some commercial growers cut eggplants back to 18 inches for a second harvest in fall.
A common error is harvesting too late. Firm, vibrant and glossy is good. Dull is not. Depending on the variety, the calyx, the part holding the eggplant, should be green, not brown and drying. If it is brown and the fruit is spongy, the fruit is past peak, already drying internally, possibly bitter with hard seeds. With white and light-colored varieties yellow means they are over mature, compost. To keep your plant producing, cut off over mature fruit and see if it will produce any further. If you are done for the season, use over-ripe fruits for seed saving.
Seed Saving! Save seeds from your very best plant! It’s easy to do. Let the last one rot until very stinky. Oh, boy. Here is the Southern Agrarian, Stephen Clay McGehee’s way of doing it.
Storage They don’t store well, 14 days max depending on the variety. They get chilling injury in the fridge. 50 to 54 Degrees is best, and not with ethylene-producing fruits, apples, bananas, melons or tomatoes.
Burpee tip! ‘When eggplants are plentiful, make up a bunch of casseroles in foil pans and freeze them [for when the snow is blowing].’ They can be roasted, grilled, baked, stewed, stuffed, dried, braised, mashed, pickled, pureed, or breaded and fried!
China and India produce the most in the world; in the US, it’s Florida, with California being #3. If you want to, go to the Loomis CA Eggplant Festival! 2014
According to the American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening — Vegetables, “A 5th Century Chinese book contains one of the oldest references to eggplant. A black dye was made from the plant, and ladies of fashion used it to stain their teeth – which, when polished, gleamed like metal.” How strange and wonderful.