Eggplants, like their popular cousins tomatoes and peppers, are half-hardy annuals that need warm weather to thrive. Fill containers with premium potting mix and plant in a sunny spot with adequate space for growth. Staking plants with a trellis or tomato cage can help them stay upright, and regularly pinching out tips encourages bushier growth.
Eggplants (Solanum melongena) love warm soil, so they thrive in vegetable garden beds and containers that are well amended with composted manure or a reputable organic vegetable mix. It is particularly important that the pH of your garden soil is adjusted to between 5.5 and 6.5 before planting eggplants. They also benefit from a layer of mulch of hay or shredded leaves to retain moisture and keep the soil warm during cool weather.
Because eggplants are primarily wind-pollinated, they are prone to failure when conditions are unfavorable for pollination — too much frost, hot, sticky days or lack of water can all stunt their growth. In addition to choosing the right growing location, you can encourage pollination by gently shaking the plants or using a paintbrush to spread the pollen among the flowers.
As with other nightshades, eggplants are susceptible to several plant diseases and pests, but prevention is a key aspect of organic gardening. To help keep these unwanted guests at bay, lay down a sheet of Tui Quash slug and snail control as soon as you plant your eggplants, and fertilize the garden or container with an all-natural 5-10-5 vegetable food in the spring and again when the first fruits begin to set.
Eggplants require steady, warm growing conditions to thrive. They perform well in garden beds, raised beds and containers. When planting in the ground, dig in plenty of organic matter such as Tui Sheep Pellets and Tui Vegetable Mix. If planting in a container, use a rich organic potting soil and add a slow-release vegetable food at the time of transplanting.
Space eggplants two to three feet apart or in rows at least three feet long, depending on the variety. Proper spacing encourages airflow to help ward off disease and allows plants to grow to their full potential. Taller cultivars may benefit from being staked to keep them upright.
Eggplant flowers are primarily wind-pollinated, so still days and hot weather can result in poor fruit set. To increase fruit production, hand-pollinate the flowers by gently shaking each plant daily. It is also a good idea to side dress the plants with an organic fertilizer that is lower in nitrogen than phosphorus at planting time and every four weeks throughout the summer.
The eye-catching vegetable-technically a berry-is a beautiful addition to flower beds and container gardens. The heavy-laden plants can fall over, so stake them or use tomato cages to keep the plant upright. Staking also helps prevent a common bacterial disease called verticillium wilt.
Eggplants require full sun and warm weather to produce fruit. A frigid night or lack of water can delay flowering and reduce fruit production. High-nitrogen fertilizers encourage leaf growth at the expense of flowering and fruiting, so avoid high-nitrogen products when growing eggplants.
A soil test is important prior to planting, as eggplants grow best in slightly acidic to alkaline soil that is well-draining. Amend the soil with aged compost or a commercial organic planting mix, and mix it to 12 inches deep. You can help raise the soil temperature in advance of planting by covering it with black plastic to capture solar energy and heat up the ground. Water eggplants frequently at first to get them established, then regularly to keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. Mulching conserves moisture and helps control weeds.
Keeping the soil in which eggplants are planted rich and well-draining is important to encouraging healthy plant growth. Regular applications of compost enriched with banana peels for phosphorus and eggshells for calcium help maintain balanced soil nutrients for these plants.
The best time to harvest eggplant is when the color is a deep purple or white and the skin has a glossy coating. To check for ripeness, gently squeeze an eggplant, and it should bounce back without leaving any indentations or becoming hard.
To harvest, put on a pair of gardening gloves, since eggplants have thorny stems, and cut the fruit from the plant. To keep eggplants fresh for a longer period of time, store them in a cool place until ready to use. Enjoy the fruits of your labors in recipes like this vegetarian eggplant, kale, and ricotta cannelloni. You can also try this caramelized eggplant and pesto pasta. These eggplants, and many more varieties that you can grow right in your garden, are sure to please your taste buds.