Tips on Growing Eggplant
Eggplant is one of those vegetables that everyone loves to eat, but growing eggplant is not a high priority among most backyard gardeners. Eggplant is much more popular in Europe than it is in America and it is grown all over the world, including in such Asian countries as Japan and China.
The biggest tip for growing eggplant is to remember that it is a hot weather vegetable. It likes the warm temperatures of summertime, so it should never be planted outside until all danger of frost is past. For people who live in colder climates, that usually means either buying transplants or planting eggplant inside at least eight weeks before it can go into the ground outside.
If you live in a truly warm location, you can do a second planting in the mid-summer to be harvested late in the fall. Eggplant likes the heat so much that you should plant your seeds or seedlings in the part of your garden where they will get the most hours of direct sunlight every day. When growing eggplant, you should place the seeds only ¼ to ½ inch under the soil. Leave at least a foot and a half of space between plants and the rows should be at least two feet apart.
The eggplant that most gardeners grow is the dark purple type that looks rather oblong. There are other lesser known varieties, including eggplant that is golden, red or white. Eggplant needs lots of nutrients so be sure to apply plenty of manure and compost to the soil before planting to give them a good start. You will also want to add some extra nitrogen and potassium along the sides of the plants about halfway through the season or you can even continue to fertilize every three weeks throughout the season.
Growing eggplant is not an easy task but one which is very rewarding when your harvest is ready to be picked. Diseases are usually not much of a problem with eggplant but it is very popular among insects. The ones most commonly seen are flea beetles, aphids, whiteflies, and red spider mites. For most people, flea beetles are the worst pest as they continually eat little holes in the plant leaves. You can protect your plants by dusting them with either an organic or inorganic pesticide.
The best way to keep eggplant damage to a minimum is to have healthy plants. Pests and diseases prey on weak plants, so if your plants are kept healthy and strong, you already have a first line of defense against damaging insects. Eggplant needs lots of water, so if your location is having a dry year, you will need to water your young eggplants on an almost daily basis. They don’t like to sit in water but you should maintain a steady flow of water so that the leaves never have the opportunity to wilt. Older eggplants do not need to be watered as frequently.
Once eggplant are ready to harvest, picking them before they get too large and produce seeds will allow you to keep growing eggplant right up until the cold weather comes. Most eggplants will grow up to three feet high, so just like tomatoes, you will need to stake the plants to keep the fruit off the ground. You can buy or make wire cages or simply tie the plant to a pole for support.
Eggplants should be harvested when their skin is shiny. Once the outside starts to look dull, it means that the eggplant is producing seeds and is getting past the time when it is good to eat. A ripe eggplant is usually six to eight inches long. Always cut the eggplant at the stem to remove it from the plant. That way you won’t damage the plant to the point that it stops producing.