Eggplants are frost tender, heat-loving plants and sprout slowly from seeds so purchased plants are the most practical way to grow them. If you live in a frost free area eggplants can be perennial and will bear fruit all season. Just think of eggplant parmesan, caponata, or ratatouille and get going with planting yourself some eggplant.
The Bambino is great for hors d’oeuvres and shish-kabobs
Here are some guidelines for growing eggplants of all kinds.
Variety Selection: The typical eggplants you see in every grocery store are only one kind among many. Eggplants may be long and thin, finger sized and shaped, small and round, or egg size and shape, just to mention a few variations. Many are dark purple but white, green, orange, and yellow are possible too. So are stripes, and blends. Many have tender skins and never need to be peeled; and some are never bitter so don’t have to be salted. For more on the variety of eggplants available read my post on selecting the right kind of eggplant for you.
Planting Out: Plant outside when daytime temperatures are above 70, night temperatures are above 55, and soil temperature at 4” is 60 F or above. Be sure that the seedlings have been carefully hardened off. Set plants 18-36” apart depending on the variety. Small plants need the smaller amount.
Site: Avoid areas that might be affected by cold air drainage as eggplants are very sensitive to cold temperatures and will drop their flowers if temperatures fall below 50 F.
Soil: Eggplants prefer organically rich, light, warm soil but I have had them do fabulously well in amended heavy clay soil.
Light: Full sun, but provide some shade if temperatures go over 100.
Water: Keep soil consistently moist but not wet. When temperatures rise about 90 the plants may be stressed so be particularly diligent. An organic mulch will help conserve soil moisture.
Fertilizing: Fertilizer at planting time with a teaspoon of a fertilizer in the ration of 1-2-2, for example 5-10-10, and then again every 3-4 weeks after flowering, using the same kind of low nitrogen fertilizer. If you prefer organic fertilizer, you can use fish emulsion. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers; they will cause excessive leaf production at the expense of flowers and fruit.
Cultivation: Eggplants have shallow root systems and so cultivate carefully and not too deeply.
Pests and Disease: Although less prone to diseases and pests than their tomato cousins, eggplants can suffer from a variety of problems especially if stressed. Cut worms can be a problem at transplanting time but paper collars of tuna fish cans with both ends removed can keep the worm away from the plants. Aphids and potato bugs like them and spraying may be suggested. Many of the insect pests can be controlled with Sevin.
Harvesting: Eggplant can be harvested when they are about 1/3 of their full size and can be left on the vine for a while afterwards. The skin of a ripe eggplant is shiny and soft to the touch so that an indentation can be seen when pressed. Some eggplants have prickly stems so use scissors to snip off the fruit. Brown seed or dull skin is an indication of over maturity. If you can’t eat or give away all the fruits at a given time, cut them off and discard them out so that your plants will keep on producing.
Eggplant is almost always served cook. It has that wonderful ability to take on the flavor of the items it is being cooked with and can be cooked in a variety of ways. Bake, fry, or grill it with oil and some herbs, and you have a easy side-dish. Cook it with tomato sauce and cheese for eggplant parmesan or pair it with celery, olives, and tomato sauce for capanata. Prepare it with other zucchini, tomatoes, and onion to make ratatouille and you have a gourmet treat. And if you want to try it raw, pickle it.