Have you been gardening for a few years? Do you feel like you're ready for a challenge? Me too! This season my gardening challenge is to grow a couple varieties of eggplants successfully (as opposed to my other attempts, which were not so successful). While trapped inside all winter I've been boning up on all things eggplant. So, let me drop some knowledge on you about growing eggplant.
I devised a five-step plan for my eggplant endeavor. (It was color coded, indexed, and illustrated. Did I mention it was a really looong winter?)
Step 1: Choose the variety to grow
This step involved me sitting by the fire buried under a delightful avalanche of seed catalogs during a blizzard dreaming of days warm enough for growing eggplant.
Generally speaking, there are four types of eggplant: the oval-oblong shaped eggplant that you see in your local supermarket; Japanese eggplant that are long and slender; small fruited eggplant that include green, white, lavender, and purple varieties; and novelty eggplant that include exotic varieties such as orange Turkish eggplant, green Thai eggplant, and egg-shaped white eggplant.
My dog eventually unearthed me from the pile of seed catalogs, and I never actually bought the seeds. Why? Read on...
Step 2: Decide just how much of a challenge you want
I'm up for a challenge, but I'm not totally crazy. In other words, I had to decide if I was going to start growing eggplant from seeds indoors or simply buy seedlings from the local nursery. Based on my past (disastrous) experience, I decided to buy seedlings.
But, by all means, I encourage you to start seeds indoors from seeds. You'll be rewarded by having a greater variety to choose from including heirloom choices. I strongly suggest growing your seedlings on a heat mat because they want to be very toasty warm.
If, like me, you buy seedling from the nursery, resist the urge to put them in the ground too soon. The ideal growing temp for eggplant is above 70 degrees. So, for gardeners like me, that means they don't go in the ground until the risk of frost has long past. I let my tomatoes be a guide. Once my tomato plants had been outside for a week and fared well then I planted my eggplant.
Step 3: Pop 'em in the ground
When the temp was finally warm enough for my eggplant seedlings I popped 'em in the ground. (Then I sat there and obsessively watched them for a long while. You can skip this step if you have a life.)
Give them the best soil possible by amending with compost. A soil pH of 5.5-6.5 is best.
I'm growing eggplant in a garden bed where I had previously grown lettuce. This is good because they shouldn't grow in a garden bed where other nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers) have grown for the past two years. Why? To avoid the risk of pests.
Before planting I laid a black tarp on my soil for a couple days to try to warm it as much as possible. And I had garden stakes ready for when the plants get a bit bigger and need support.
Step 4: Avoid pests
At the moment I've got row covers on my eggplant to hopefully avoid flea beetles. When the plants are about 14 inches tall I'll remove the covers and keep a look out for the little pests. If you don't have a row cover, then consider planting eggplant in a large (at least 14 inches wide) pot. Place the pot on a table so that it is far away from the ground where the flea beetles live.
Step 5: Post gorgeous, envy-inducing Instagram pics of my harvest and get cooking!
I've been dreaming of this day ever since the avalanche of seed catalogs! I've made this grilled eggplant recipe before and can't wait to try it with my home grown eggplant.