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Choosing A Variety
When choosing which Eggplant to grow, you have a lovely variety of colors, shapes, and sizes to pick from! The basic types are globe-shaped, elongated and cylindrical, and egg-shaped, with the possible colors for the fruit including white, purple, rose, green, black, yellow, orange, or red, and solid or striped. The most common type found in North America is the Western or oval eggplant. Its large deep purple fruit is used for stuffing, baking, sautéing, and grilling.
When To Start
Eggplants are best started inside approximately 6 weeks before the last frost or about 8 weeks before you expect the outside temperatures to remain above 60°F at night. They can be sown outdoors only in climates with very long growing seasons, when the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past.
How To Start
You can start with seed starting pot-packs, pots, or a good seed starting mix to sow your eggplant seeds. And you have several options, depending on how many eggplants you want to grow.
Place your pots or flats in a 70-75°F room, or you can use a seedling heat mat to raise the temperature. You should see the first sprouts in about 10 to 15 days and fruit should appear in 45 to 90 days from sowing, depending on the variety. As soon as your sprouts are up, place the seedlings under strong light.
If you're using a potting mix, plant at a depth of 4 times the size of the seed (below a ¼ inch of soil). You can use Jiffy Pots and Strips - Jiffy Pots are constructed of lightweight, biodegradable peat moss, so as the roots develop, they will grow right through the Jiffy Pot walls and into the garden soil.
Using fluorescent light for around 14 to 16 hours a day is also ideal for the fastest growth. You will want to keep the seedlings just a few inches below the light so they don't "stretch" and get "leggy". If you don't have strong artificial light, a sunny window will work, too.
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About 2 weeks before your transplant date work the garden soil thoroughly. Eggplants like a rich, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter so add compost or manure before planting. You can also work in a time-released fertilizer, which can be reapplied every 4 to 6 weeks. Then cover the soil with a tarp or plastic mulch to keep the weeds from sprouting until you're ready to plant. The use of mulch or a pop-up cold frame will also warm the soil, an important step before planting your young Eggplants.
Three to five days before transplanting, you'll need to start "hardening off" your young plants by setting them outdoors in a lightly shaded area for an hour or two. The next day, give them a longer visit outside until they remain outdoors overnight, still in their pots. Naturally, if a cold spell hits, bring them indoors again to wait for the temperature to rise.
Your plants are ready to be transplanted when they have at least two sets of true leaves. Plant them 1 ½ to 2 feet apart in rows that are 2 ½ to 3 feet apart. Site them in full sun in well-drained soil, where they will receive 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Water well and mulch to conserve moisture. If you're growing the plants in straight rows, plastic mulch is far easier and effective than loose mulch.
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Eggplants dislike root disturbance, so transplant carefully.
Eggplants are very sensitive to extreme cold, so after you've planted your seedlings, if there's a chance of a really cold or frosty night, securely cover them with a plastic bucket, plastic bag, or row cover.
Unless you have no other choice, don't plant your Eggplants in the same place you planted Tomatoes, Eggplants, or Peppers the year before. These veggies all belong to the same plant family and therefore have similar nutritional needs and are susceptible to similar diseases. Their presence can deplete the soil of important nutrients and possibly leave remnants of diseases in leaf litter the following year.
Some varieties of Eggplants have spines, so be careful when harvesting the fruit.
* Use a row cover to reduce insect damage.
* Encourage the presence of ladybugs, lacewings, and other beneficial insects in your garden. These "good" insects prey on aphids and other destructive insects.
* Use cages or supports to keep fruit-laden plants from falling over.
* The mature size of each plant will determine how much space you need to provide. For standard-size varieties, allow 18 to 24 inches between plants. Smaller types can be placed closer together, perhaps 12 to 18 inches apart.
* In order to remain productive, Eggplants need about 1 inch of water per week. A 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch will help retain moisture as well as offer weed control.
* If the nights become cool once your Eggplants have been planted in the garden, you can protect them with row covers or a tarp. Be careful, however, not to lay the tarp directly on the plants. You will need to use blocks, sticks, or whatever you have available to form a tent over your tender young Eggplants. You can remove it during the day and replace it at night, or leave it in place for several days and nights without damage to the plants.
* Growing Eggplants in containers adds beauty to decks and patios as well as offers a solution if you have limited gardening space or if you simply want delicious veggies within easy reach. You can grow dwarf varieties in an 8-inch pot or a deep window box. Larger Eggplants will need a 12-inch pot or 5-gallon container to allow for root development. Only use containers with drainage for excess water, and choose a potting mix designed for container gardening. Water as needed, especially during the heat of summer and as fruit begins to form on the plants.
* Harvest fruits regularly to keep the plants producing. Don't pull them off, but rather cut them off cleanly - pulling the fruit off may damage the stems. If a stem does get broken, use a knife or cutter to remove it cleanly. Eggplant fruit is best used fresh but will keep for about a week if it's loosely wrapped in a perforated plastic bag and stored in your refrigerator's crisper or a cool pantry.
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* Flea beetles, so named for their tendency to jump when disturbed, love Eggplants. They produce a characteristic injury to leaves known as "shot-holing." Young plants and seedlings are particularly susceptible to this damage. You can use Sevin Dust or organic Neem oil to control them.
* Aphids are often found on the underside of leaves and on stems and young buds. You can wash them off with a strong stream of water or use an insecticidal soap (be sure to follow the label instructions). Check the plants regularly, as aphids can be a recurring problem.
* Mites are extremely small and often not noticed until the damage has been done. A fine webbing on the underside of the leaves may indicate their presence. They thrive under hot, dry conditions, injuring the plants by sucking out the juices, which causes the leaves to discolor and yellow. Mites can be controlled by washing the plants with water every day for about a week or by applying an insecticidal soap to the underside and top of the leaves.
* Verticillium wilt can affect Eggplants, Tomatoes, Peppers, and Potatoes. A soil-borne fungus that makes the plants wilt, turn yellow, and eventually die causes this disease. Rotating these plants to different areas of the garden every year can prevent this problem.
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The Nightshade Family - Friend or Foe?
Did you know that the Petunia and the Eggplant are cousins? Incredible as it seems, both are members of the Solanaceae, or Nightshade, family. And if the word "Nightshade" makes you think "Deadly," you're right - many members of this family are highly toxic. Yet others, such as Eggplant, Tomato, and Pepper are deliciously edible!
If you look closely, all of the Nightshades really do look similar. Their flowers are funnel-shaped and 5 petals, usually connected. The leaves are hairy or clammy. And the fruit is either a berry (such as the tomato) or a capsule that breaks open when dry, releasing round, flat, tiny seeds.
So from fragrant Flowering Tobacco to delectable Paprika, the Nightshades bring us beauty and spice. They aren't all deadly, and several are among our most popular garden vegetables!