Growing Eggplant in the Home Garden

Eggplant is one of the most versatile vegetables in the home garden. The fruit can be steamed, baked, fried, grilled, boiled, saut ed, breaded, and stuffed. Believed to be native to India, eggplant is popular in dishes around the world.

Eggplant is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Other garden vegetables in this family include tomato, potato, pepper, ground cherry, and tomatillo.

Suggested Varieties

Numerous varieties (cultivars) are available for the home garden. These varieties differ in color, size, and shape. Fruit colors include green, white, pink, purple, and black. Some fruit are striped. Fruit may be oval, pear-shaped, or long and narrow. Asian types may produce fruit that are 10 to 12 inches long. In contrast, some varieties produce miniature fruit that are only 1 to 2 inches long. Suggested eggplant varieties for Iowa are listed below. A brief description of the fruit follows the varietal name.

  • Applegreen -- oval, 5 to 6 inches long, pale green.
  • Bambino -- oval, 1 inch long, purple black.
  • Black Beauty -- oval, 6 to 7 inches long, purple black.
  • Black Bell -- oval to round, 6 inches long, purple black.
  • Caspar -- cylindrical, 6 inches long, white.
  • Cloud Nine -- oval, 6 inches long, white.
  • Dusky -- pear-shaped, 6 to 7 inches long, purple black.
  • Ghostbuster -- oval, 6 inches long, white.
  • Ichiban -- Asian type, narrow, 12 inches long, dark purple.
  • Kermit -- round, 2 inches in diameter, deep green with white blossom end.
  • Millionaire -- Asian type, slender, 10 inches long, purple black.
  • Rosita -- teardrop-shaped, 8 inches long, rose pink.

Planting

Eggplant performs best in well-drained, fertile soils in full sun. If a soil test has not been conducted, apply and incorporate 1 to 2 pounds of an all-purpose garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, per 100 square feet prior to planting. Set plants in the garden after the danger of frost is past. Eggplant can be planted outdoors in mid-May in central Iowa. Gardeners in southern Iowa can plant about 1 week earlier, while those in northern counties should wait 1 additional week. The last practical planting date is June 20. When starting plants indoors, sow seeds 6 to 8 weeks prior to the anticipated outdoor planting date.

When planting, space plants 2 feet apart within the row. Rows should be spaced 3 feet apart. At transplanting, apply a dilute fertilizer solution to each plant. A dilute fertilizer solution can be prepared by dissolving 2 tablespoons of a complete garden fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, in each gallon of water. Pour 1 to 2 cups of the solution around the base of each plant. Water soluble fertilizers, such as Miracle-Gro and Peters, are also suitable. When using these products, follow label directions on the package.

Pests

Flea beetles are the most common pest of eggplant in the home garden. Adults are tiny, shiny, black beetles. They possess large hind legs that enable them to jump. Flea beetles eat small, round holes in the eggplant foliage, resulting in "shothole" damage. If significant damage begins to appear, treat plants with an insecticide. As always, carefully read and follow label directions when using pesticides.

Harvest

Begin harvesting the large, oval varieties when the fruit are 2 inches in diameter. Continue to harvest the fruit until they are 4 to 6 inches across. At the proper harvest stage, the fruit will be firm and shiny. Overmature fruit will be dull, seedy, and tough. Remove the fruit with a knife or hand shears, leaving an inch of stem on each fruit.

Eggplant fruit do not keep well after harvesting. For best quality, it's generally best to leave them on the plant until you are ready to use them. Eggplant fruit can be stored up to 7 days at a temperature of 46 to 54 F and a relative humidity of 90 to 95%.

This article originally appeared in the 3/23/2005 issue.

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