Eggplants are one of my favorite vegetables to grow in the garden which is strange considering that I refused to eat them as a kid. Now I love eggplants in and out of the garden.
There are about twenty plants of a dozen different varieties of heirloom eggplants growing in my garden this season.
Eggplants in the Backyard Garden
One thing that’s captivating about raising eggplants is the variety that this crop offers. They grow in a wide assortment of shapes, sizes, flavors, and colors to decorate the garden or create that favorite recipe. Despite the fact that you’ll only find a couple different varieties for sale at your local garden center, there are many intriguing eggplant varieties.
Everyone is most familiar with the large, purple, “Black Beauty” types of eggplants that you find on the shelves of your local grocer. Booorrring… there are so many unique, colorful, and delicious varieties of eggplants available to the home gardener that I hesitate to plant any of the standard types.
Eggplants can produce round fruits, fat and oblong ones, or slender and elongated fruits. The colors range from shades of purple, black, and lavender, to red, pink, rose, yellow, white, orange, green, and even multi-colored and striped eggplants. You can choose from tiny, marble sized varieties, right on up to giant zucchini sized eggplants.
Cultivating Homegrown Eggplants
All of my heirloom eggplants, with the exception of a couple that were purchased at the Landis Valley Herb Faire, were started indoors from seed and later transplanted out into the garden. Eggplant seedlings can be started a couple of weeks ahead of tomatoes and are transplanted into the garden a week or two after setting out tomato plants.
Other than those slight differences in timing, eggplants can be cultivated in a manner very similar to tomatoes. They will flourish under the same growing conditions, and also prefer a fertilization regimen that favors potassium and phosphorous over high levels of nitrogen, especially when the plants are flowering and fruiting.
I even use small cages to support the eggplants and help keep them upright under the load of a heavy crop of fruit and frequent summer thunderstorms. If you prefer you can tie the plants to stakes, just be sure to provide some type of support as the plants mature, grow tall, and bear fruit.
Tips for Growing Productive Eggplants
Eggplants like it hot so don’t even think about transplanting them out into the garden until after all threat of frost has passed and the soil has thoroughly warmed. A layer of plastic mulch will help provide additional warmth and conserve moisture for your fast growing plants.
Eggplants grow very well in raised beds and can be spaced twelve inches apart in each direction. Healthy plants will quickly cover and shade the bed, eliminating any opportunity for weeds to become established. I usually grow eggplants together in the same bed with peppers since they share similar growth habits.
Flea Beetles are a common and serious threat when it comes to growing a productive crop of homegrown eggplants. This insect pest is capable of quickly causing frustration and disappointment for eggplant growers all over. The next post will discuss eggplants and flea beetles and look at a few organic gardening techniques for dealing with this persistent pest.
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