Eggplants or aubergines are commonly grown in vegetable gardens around the world. The eggpplant bush produces beautiful flowers and very exotic looking fruit. They are often used as both an edible and ornamental plant in organic gardens and are a standard part of southern European diets. Eggplant fruit is a beautiful flavor when prepared properly. Our planting blog this week teaches you how to grow your own great tasting eggplant. You can also find a lot of additional information on eggplant in our web site paid member area.
Step 1. Prepare your soil
Eggplants will grow in average loamy soil that is well drained and prepared with organic matter. Its best to not grow them in low lying areas or heavy clay soils. The ideal ph range of 5.5-6.8. Eggplants like adequate levels of lime in the soil so give your soil a lime treatment as part of your bed preparation. Its very important that the soil should absorb and retain water effectively and drain well, as eggplant is a water hungry plant when fruiting.
To prepare the bed, loosen the soil to 6-8 inches (15-18cm) depth and break up any large clods in the soil. In planning your soil area for eggplant, allow a reasonable amount of space between plants and then concentrate your organic matter in the soil right where you intend to put each eggplant. Organic matter such as very well rotted manure, compost, leaf mould (not eucalypt) can be used. Make sure you do this preparation up to two weeks before planting. If its hot, cover your soil with mulch when ready and ensure its very moist before covering.
Step 2. Choose your plants
In tropical climates eggplants can be grown as a perrenial whilst in more temperate climates it is an annual. A healthy eggplant will crop over the warmest part of the year. Of the most common varieties, each plant will produce approximately 4-8 fruits, so on that basis allow about 2-3 plants per adult in your household. Allow about a third metre (12 inches) diameter circle around each plant as they take up quite a bit space.
The are many varieites of eggplant to choose from and its important you choose varieties suitable for your taste preference and use. Popular varieties, such as Black beauty, produce glossy, deep purple, plum shaped fruits which may weight from 0.5- 1.5kg. While other varieties such as Black pekin produce thinner purple fruits which are easy to slice and common Italian varieties produce white fruits. The varieties which produce sausage shaped fruits, although not commonly seen in green grocers, are very popular for home gardeners, as they are easy to slice when eating. Varieties are listed on our plant database in our web site paid member area.
Eggplant is a bee pollinated plant so encourage a healthy bee population in your garden.
Step 3. Follow correct planting methods
Eggplant is a warm season crop needing a full sun position with up to 8 hours of sunlight per day. It will take from 60-80 days to grow to full sized fruits. Avoid planting during the year when when there is any frost at either end of its growing cycle. You could use a protected environment at the start of the season to get an early crop underway, but remember frost will make them very unhappy. If you plant a late crop, make sure you protect the plants from extreme cold. Paid members of our web site can use the localised planting calendar to find out ideal planting months and extreme cold months for growing eggplant for any location in Australia, USA and New Zealand.
Normally eggplants are planted out into the garden from seedlings rather than seeds, but if you have a warm climate, direct planting into the garden should be OK. Make sure you plant the seeds or seedlings in your garden bed in a large ball of compost.
Eggplants are quite compact bushes, so use the space between the bushes to grow leafy plants such as lettuce that are good companions, do not need full sun and cover the ground to hold in soil moisture. You can grow eggplants it in pots, but ensure its a big pot and its regularly feed with organic liquid fertiliser.
Although eggplant can be grown as a perrenial in warm climates, the best cropping in both warm and temperate climates can be achieved if you do not keep growing in the same bed each season or with the same family (solanum family - potatoes, tomatoes and capsicum), as this will deplete the soil and increase the potential for soil borne diseases. Itís good to have eggplant after flowering crops and there are many companions and beneficial flowers for eggplant to assist with pest and disease resistance, as well as enhancing fertility. If you are a paid member of our web site, you can access crop rotation and companion planting information for eggplant.
Step 4. Use these growing guidelines
Always keep the soil around your young eggplant plant moist. Feed the plant regularly with liquid fertiliser (such as seaweed and fish emulsion or compost teas), especially if you have very hot conditions and your soil humus levels are not optimum.
The water levels required by eggplant changes over their growing period. When they reach fruiting stage, the water levels should be more than double of the pre-fruiting stage. Mulch the soil around the base of the plants to hold in soil moisture.
Step 5. Control for pests and diseases
Maintaining a healthy soil is always the best protection against pests and diseases, so this is rule number one. Our web site paid member area has extensive instructional content on organic and biodynamic soil fertility practices for your vegetable and herb garden.
Eggplants may be bothered by a wide range of common pests including aphids, colorado beetles, flea beetles, cutworms, grasshoppers and leaf hoppers. Instructions on managing these pests on eggplant are in our web site paid member area.
Common diseases for eggplant are fruit rot, bacterial wilt and verticillium wilt with the later being more common in cooler climate areas. Crop rotation is a vital part of your gardening strategy to reduce these types of diseases. Adding magnesium to the soil can help with verticillium wilt. Root rot may start with very high hummidity over an extended number of days. Extensive information on organic treatment of eggplant diseases is provided in our web site paid member area as well as rotation, companion planting and beneficial flower information.
Authored by Peter Kearney, www.cityfoodgrowers.com