Here are a few things to know about eggplants when getting ready for your Summer vegetable garden:
Eggplants are categorized by shape, but more importantly size.
Large, round fruited or semi-oblong: This group contains our American and European varieties, known for their large rounded fruits. One popular variety is 'Black Beauty'
Short elongated: These elongated fruits can grow anywhere from 3 to 8 inches in length. Some varieties in this group produce 3-5 fruits in a cluster, like 'Little Fingers', and also the Japanese hybrid: 'Millionaire'
Long fruited: This group includes varieties whose fruits range from 10-18 inches.
Egg-shaped: Aptly described, varieties in this group are popular and common in Japan and other Asian countries, but there are also a few well known European varieties
Cherry Type: Mostly composed of varieties used in Southeast Asia including Laos and Thailand.
How to Grow Eggplants
Seeding: Growing eggplant from seed can be tricky because they require really warm soil temperatures to germinate. Starting from seeds should be done indoor with a warming pad.
We recommend purchasing starts from your local nursery come May/June. Wait to plant starts outside until nights are no longer in the 40s.
Prepare your planting area: Make sure that there are no underground obstructions, such as existing root vegetables or rocks.
Allow for adequate space: Eggplant plants can get quite large and should be planted roughly 12-18 inches apart.
Optimal exposure: Eggplants require heat and good amounts of sun to produce and ripen fruit. Plant your eggplant in the sunny, if not sunniest, part of your garden.
Water: Eggplants do not like to be overwatered or left in soaking soil. Water your eggplant deeply 1-2 times a week in non-irrigated beds.
Pruning: When plants are about 6 inches high, nip the growing tip to encourage branching.
Fertilizing: Eggplants, like many other summer plants, are heavy feeders. If you are transplanting an eggplant start, we recommend putting a dose of granular fertilizer in the bottom of the hole before planting. Once that settles, you should fertilize every two weeks and/or as directed on your preferred fertilizer.
Support: Although not always necessary, some eggplants will require trellis or staking for support. This is more common with the large fruit varieties.
A common mistake is to harvest eggplants too late. Eggplant should be harvested after they reach the proper size and color for their type, but before their fruit becomes seedy. When the side of the fruit is pressed slightly with the thumbnail and an indentation remains, the fruit is ripe.
If left on the plant too long, they will become tough and off-flavored.
The fruits are usually cut from the plants with a knife or pruning tool since the stems are hard and woody. The large calyx (cap) and a short piece of stem are left on the fruit. Watch out! Plants of most cultivars have sharp spines, so care is necessary when harvesting to prevent injury.