Guide To Growing Eggplant

If you can grow a tomato, you can grow an eggplant—and you should
Story by Mary Beth Shaddix
Growing Eggplant
Photo: Alison Miksch

You don't need to be to be an egghead to grow eggplants. They're just as simple as their tomato cousins, and they like the same conditions. Plant them in a kitchen garden, or use one as the centerpiece of a flower-filled container. You'll enjoy their star-shaped blooms and beautiful, delicious fruit.

Select
While "Black Beauty" is a common selection in grocery stores, consider venturing beyond the everyday sort. "Florida Market" is a prolific heirloom with excellent flavor, faring well in our long growing season. Expect to harvest many shiny, purplish black eggplants in about 85 days after setting out plants. "Clara" is a sight to behold, offering shiny white fruit with mild, creamy flesh in 65 days. Midsize "Dancer" (65 days) features striking, deep pinkish purple fruit. A smaller plant, it produces well through hot, humid summers and gets its second wind in fall. Look for these selections at your local garden center or online from rareseeds.com and johnnyseeds.com.

Plant
Eggplants thrive in 75-degree soil and sulk if planted too soon. To raise the soil temperature for early planting, mulch with black plastic or grow in dark-colored containers. Plants grow up to 3 feet tall, with large leaves and purple or white blossoms. The eye-catching fruit is quite attractive in flowerbeds and container gardens. Stake eggplants as you would peppers and tomatoes, so the heavy-laden plants don't fall over.

Without a doubt, flea beetles will find your tasty crop, making pinholes in leaves that can do real damage. Deter their early-season arrival by shielding plants with row covers until they bloom (then remove them). Or use diatomaceous earth to dust leaves lightly, the same way Aunt Agnes powders her lemon squares with sugar. This organic pesticide works well, though it must be reapplied after a rainfall.

Harvest
Learning when to pick is a little tricky. Look for glossy skin versus the dull skin of overripe, bitter eggplant. Clip the thick, woody stem with snips, and enjoy the fruit while fresh. Eggplants are chameleons in the kitchen and useful in many forms. Sliced or diced, they are great for grilling, perfect pureed, simple to stir-fry, and a hearty addition to many Italian and Mediterranean dishes.

THE BASICS
Plant Set out plants two weeks after your area's last spring frost.
Soil
Plant in fertile, well-drained soil amended with organic matter, such as composted manure or chopped leaves.
Fertilize
Use an organic product, such as Jobe's Organics Vegetable & Tomato (2-7-4), according to label directions.