Name: eggplant, aubergine, Solanum melongena.
Height: 40-80cm, depending on the variety.
Plant type: tender perennial fruiting vegetable, usually grown as an annual.
Climate: suitable for all zones.
Soil: moist, well-drained and enriched with plenty of organic matter.
Position: full sun with protection from strong winds.
Foliage: slightly fuzzy grey-green leaves with scalloped margins.
Flowering and fruiting: flowers are small, purple and star-shaped. Fruit can be oval, teardrop-shaped, slim and cylindrical, or small and spherical (baby eggplant). Common forms are glossy dark-purple to black, but some varieties are light purple, cream or green, or even striped.
Feeding: liquid feed regularly throughout the growing season.
Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.
Eggplant is a warm-season vegetable that is part of the tomato, cucumber and zucchini family (Solanaceae). It can be grown year-round in the warmer north, but is best grown over spring and summer in temperate and cool climates. The plant is typically grown as an annual and discarded once fruiting has finished, but it can be treated as a perennial for a few seasons in warm, frost-free climates.
Fruit may be oval, teardrop-shaped, cylindrical or spherical. The stems are stiff and prickly, especially near the calyx or leathery green cap where the fruit attaches to the stem. Leaves are grey-green with a slightly fuzzy texture. The edible flesh is creamy-white – sometimes with a light green hue – and contains multiple, small, tan-brown seeds.
It’s a highly productive, vigorous plant that needs staking to support the fruit-laden stems.
Eggplant is technically a fruit because the ‘fruit’ develops from a flower and contains seeds, but it is often referred to as a vegetable. Occasionally, it is called a ‘fruiting vegetable’ to distinguish it from traditional fruit and vegetable plants.
Eggplant can be enjoyed grilled, fried, braised or baked, or used in soups, stews and curries.
Eggplant is a warm-season veggie, so sow seeds after the last chance of frost. Germination occurs within 7-14 days. Alternatively, get a head start on the season by sowing seeds indoors on a heat mat in late winter. The seedlings will be ready to transplant once the weather and soil warms.
Prepare the garden bed at least a couple of weeks prior to planting. Choose a spot in full sun with well-draining soil. Mix in plenty of organic matter, including compost and well-rotted manure, and fork in well. A dusting of dolomite or gypsum will boost soil calcium levels and thus help prevent issues with blossom end rot.
Taller varieties (greater than 50cm) require staking to support the stems and keep fruit off the ground. This is best done at planting time or when plants are young to reduce the likelihood of damaging the roots. Drive a strong, sturdy stake into the ground approximately 5cm away from the plant and secure to the plant with a garden tie. Compact varieties (less than 50cm tall) do not require staking.
Eggplant needs regular watering to keep the soil moist. Poor or inconsistent watering can cause the flowers or fruit to prematurely drop. Avoid overhead watering, as this can increase the likelihood of fungal problems. Spread an organic mulch over the soil to help conserve moisture and control weeds. Feed weekly or as directed with a liquid fertiliser that’s specially formulated for fruiting plants.
Eggplant is usually ready to pick 12-14 weeks after planting. Fruit should be harvested when the skin is firm and glossy, but before the seeds harden and brown. To harvest, cut the stem with a sharp knife, leaving a short stem attached to the fruit.
Caterpillars, aphids, whitefly and mites are the main pests affecting eggplant. If treatment is necessary, use an organic spray that’s suitable for use on edibles.
Blossom end rot is a physiological disorder that causes the base of the fruit to become sunken and watery. It’s caused by lack of calcium in the soil and inconsistent watering. Apply dolomite or gypsum when preparing the soil for planting, and again in the middle of the season, and water consistently.
Seeds and seedlings are the best way to grow eggplant. Sow seeds directly after the last chance of frost (late October or November); for better success, raise in trays of seed raising mix. Transplant when seedlings are 10-12cm high.
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