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Eggplant Gardening

Eggplant Gardening

What is an Eggplant:

Eggplant is a vegetable belonging to the nightshade plant family as are tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. The fruit grows in a manner much like tomatoes, hanging from the stalks and branches of plants that can grow several feet in height (in the tropics the plants can reach 7’ tall). Contained within the flesh are seeds arranged in a conical pattern.

The skin of typical eggplant is glossy and deep purple in color and looks pear-shaped/egg shaped and can weigh a pound or more, this is the characteristic from which its name is derived. The fruit can also be long like cucumbers or plum shaped and come in a variety of colors including lavender, jade green, orange, and white.

1 cup of eggplant has the trace nutrition values of the following:
Potassium; Sugar; Protein
Vitamin C; Iron; Vitamin B-6; Magnesium

Eggplant History

It is believed that eggplants grew wild in India and were first cultivated in China in the 5th century B.C. Eggplant was introduced to Africa before the Middle Ages and then into Italy, the country Eggplant is a vegetable belonging to the nightshade plant familywith which it has long been associated, in the 14th century. It subsequently spread throughout Europe and the Middle East and, centuries later, was brought to the Western Hemisphere by European explorers. Today, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, China and Japan are the leading growers of eggplant.

Types of Eggplants

There are multiple varieties of eggplant. Some may be sweeter, look different and have different maturity dates among other attributes. I am a believer in open pollinated heirloom plants. Here are a few varieties that I have grown and recommend:

Long PLong Purple Organic eggplanturple Organic, Italian type with dark purple coloring – Days to Maturity 70-80 days; Fruit Size 8-10 inches; Ferry Morse

 

BlaBlack Beauty Organic eggplantck Beauty Organic, HEIRLOOM, (my favorite) a large-fruited black eggplant – Days to Maturity 74 days; Fruit Size 4-6 inches; Park Seeds

 

TuTurkish Orange eggplantrkish Orange, A heirloom producing abundant red-orange fruit – Days to Maturity 65-85 days; Fruit Size 3 inches; Burpee Seeds

 

CaspeCasper Eggplantr Eggplant, A heirloom eggplant having solid, snow white colored skin – Days to Maturity 70 days; Fruit Size 5-6 inches, Trade Winds Fruit

 

There are many varieties to choose from. You can easily find an eggplant that fits all your requirements. In addition to heirloom, most of the reputable seed companies have developed and sell hybrid plant seeds. They have fantastic attributes, can be disease resistant etc. The issue with hybrids is that seeds from the fruit will not grow true to the parent so if you like a hybrid plant’s fruit you will need to buy new seeds every year. The only advice I would give is stay away from anything GMO.

Where to Plant

Eggplants thrive in “full sun” so select a location in the garden that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunshine. The soil should be well-drained. The soil should also have neutral to slightly acidic PH. If you have a meter, the PH should be about 5.5 and 6.5. To reduce disease and pest problems choose a spot where nightshade family members (eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes or peppers) have not been grown for at least two years.

When to Plant

Start seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before your area’s last expected spring frost. Sow the seeds about ¼ inch to ½ inch deep. If you use small containers as seed starters, you may need to replant your seedlings into 4” or larger pots as they grow to keep the plants from becoming root bound. Eggplant seeds germinate best at temperatures above 75° Fahrenheit. The easiest way to ensure good germination is to start the seeds in a warm room. Bottom heat pads work well and will maintain a steady temperature for the plants, they are however expensive and the heat they generate will not be able to maintain required air temperature. You should see seedlings popping out in about 7 -12 days. Use full spectrum lights set for 12-14 hours of light once the seedlings emerge.

Use seed starting soil from a reputable garden store. Using garden soil is less expensive but may introduce disease and bugs to the seedlings too soon. I use a mix of 80% seed starter soil to 20% worm castings. Additionally, if you reuse seed pots from year-to-year (like I do) make sure to remove old soil and clean the pots with either a weak solution of ammonia water or wash with hot water and soap to kill bacteria and other nasties that may be hanging around.

When daytime temperatures are above 65° Fahrenheit, move plants outdoors, but bring them indoors if nighttime temperatures are expected to drop below 55 degrees. Remember that seedlings started under artificial light can be burned and die if put in direct sunlight until the plants are “hardened off”. Make sure to follow the instructions in our article Starting Gardens using Seeds to avoid burning the seedlings leaves and killing the plant.

How to Plant

In the Northeast, early June is the time to plant warm weather vegetables. The daytime temperatures are usually above 65° Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures are no less than 55°. Plant the seedlings in the soil a little deeper than they were in the pots. Make sure to cover the young roots. You can cut a section from an old soda bottle and use as a collar to keep out cutworms. Plants should be roughly 2’ to 3’ from each other in rows 2 ½’ apart. You should use stakes or other supports as the plants grow. I use inexpensive tomato cages and place them as I put the young plants in the garden. I cover the tomato cage with deer netting until the plants are about 14” tall and strong enough fend for themselves. The netting will not deter pollinators from getting in but keeps out most other pests.

Plant Care

Eggplants require consistent watering to grow properly and be healthy. Including rain, plants need 1 to 2 inches of water per week after they start producing fruit.

Every 3 to 4 weeks sprinkle a quarter cup of 5-10-5 fertilizer around each plant.

Prune the plants whenever there are withered or damaged leaves.
As the plants grow tall, numerous side shoots will form along the plant’s main stem. These side shoots will bear flowers and fruits later in the season. Using tomato cages will support this type of growth.

In long-season regions, eggplants can be topped back by half their size in midsummer to stimulate the growth of new fruit-bearing branches.

Eggplants will benefit with proper cover (I used shredded paper) to maintain soil moisture and it avoid (slow down) soil born disease.

Pests

Flea beetles frequently chew small holes in eggplant leaves which seriously weakens young plants. Try using ground cover to protect the plants. Diatomaceous earth contains no toxic poisons and works on contact. Dust lightly and evenly over vegetable crops wherever pest insects are found. Parasitic nematodes will attack the immature stages developing in the soil.

Colorado potato beetle larvae eat eggplant leaves. Try using ladybugs, spined soldier bugs and lacewing, to feed on eggs and the young larval stages. Parasitic nematodes will attack the immature stages developing in the soil. Diatomaceous earth contains no toxic poisons and works on contact. Dust lightly and evenly over vegetable crops wherever pest insects are found.

Aphids – A hard spray of water can be used to remove aphids from plants. Wash off with water occasionally as needed early in the day. Check for evidence of natural enemies such as gray-brown or bloated parasitized aphids and the presence of larvae of lady beetles and lacewings. Diatomaceous earth contains no toxic poisons and works on contact. Dust lightly and evenly over vegetable crops wherever pest insects are found.

Cutworms – Use collars around transplants if cutworms are a problem.

Diseases

Verticillium wilt kills more eggplants than any other disease. Ensure good drainage and warm soil to discourage this soilborne fungus, which causes plants to wilt and eventually collapse, often with yellowing between the leaf veins.

Tobacco Mosaic Virus – Young growth is malformed and leaves are mottled with yellow. To prevent it, wash hands after handling tobacco before touching plants. Control aphids, which spread the disease.

Harvesting

Begin harvesting eggplant when the fruits reach full size and pressing firmly produces a thumbprint that bounces back quickly. UDo not cut eggplant before you store it as it deteriorates quicklynder-ripe eggplants are too hard to take a thumbprint, and overripe ones are so soft that a thumbprint leaves a permanent bruise. Eggplant skins should be tender and glossy. Use pruning shears to harvest eggplants to avoid the spikes on the stem.
A six foot row of eggplants should yield 12 and as much as 30 fruit.

Saving Eggplant Seeds

Heirloom eggplants are open pollinating, so saving seeds is easy. Choose over-ripe fruit from strong plants (take seeds from as least 2 different plant). To remove the ripe seeds, cut off the bottom end of the fruit and pick out the seeds. Dry the seeds at room temperature for about two weeks. Under good storage conditions, eggplant seeds will remain viable for five years.

Storing

Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color should be clean looking. They should be free of discoloration, scars, and bruises, which usually indicate that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.

Although they look hardy, eggplants are perishable, and care should be taken in their storage. Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it deteriorates quickly once its skin has been cut or bruised. Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for several weeks at best. If you have too much eggplant you can slice up the fruit, egg, bread and fry. My wife will do that to end of season excess fruit. We have stored them in the freezer for over six months – good winter eating.

Bell Pepper Plants for 2014

Bell PepperThe bell pepper I chose to plant for 2014 is a bull nose pepper that is a heirloom

This year I plan on planting 9 bell pepper plants in 36 square feet in garden bed one. The plot is roughly 6′ x 6′. The plants will be planted 24″ apart in a square plot. I am planting a heirloom bell pepper. The seeds were bought from the Thomas Jefferson Center and they are called bull nose peppers.

The details on the back describe the pepper as a heirloom that goes as far back as the 1700’s. My wife bought these seeds as part of a Christmas gift this year.

The seeds were started indoors in mid February. I planted 15 pots. All are growing well. I will plant the best nine and give my neighbors the remaining viable plants. Planting will happen Memorial Day weekend. As discussed on the garden bed 1 page the entire bed will have peat moss added before planting. Each bell pepper plant will get a 1/2 gallon of organic compost added.

Bell peppers are members of the Nightshade family of vegetables along with potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants. Like chili peppers, bell peppers originated in South America. Bell peppers have  vitamin A and are rich in vitamin C and Beta Carotene. According to WHfoods .org, a green pepper has approximately 12% of the daily values of vitamin A, 137% of the daily value of vitamin C and 340mcg of beta carotene. What is interesting is that WHfoods states that red bell peppers have even more vitamin A and C than green bell peppers – go figure!! Bell peppers also supply small levels of vitamin E.

 

Back to vegetable garden bed 1

Back to 2014 garden

Tomato Varieties for The Garden

Tomato Varieties to be planted this year:

Tomato varieties are the mainstay of many home gardens. When grown correctly fresh garden tomatoes are fantastic. They can be eaten straight from the garden, cooked into sauces, stews, soups – just pick what you like and tomatoes can probably be added. Tomatoes can be easily canned using the hot water method, for directions go to Ball Corp, and can even be frozen. So, any excess fruit grown can be stored for another day. When we have enough, my wife and I stew the tomatoes and can for use in sauces, soups, stews and chili.

Tomatoes have vitamins A, B, C, iron, phosphorous and potassium.

The first of the two tomato varieties I planted for the 2015 garden was a straight forward type called “Abe Lincoln”. It is an organic tomato. It started slow but once it got started it went crazy. Planted – 4 pots with 4 seeds eAbe Lincoln tomatoes are American Heirloomach on March 1. I planted 4 of the plants the 2nd week of June. All are over 6’ tall and as of mid-September have produced a little over 12 lbs. with about twice that amount yet to come. The flesh is firm a solid red and almost a perfect round shape. I really like this tomato, it is juicy but not so much that when cut into there is a mess. Cut a slice and sprinkle some salt – excellent.

The advertising for the Abe Lincoln states: 90 days, indeterminate — ‘Abraham Lincoln’ was originally released by H. W. Buckbee Seed of Rockford, Illinois in 1923. Abraham Lincoln tomatoes are large, meaty, flavorful heirloom tomatoes. There are many exceptional heirloom tomatoes, but ‘Abraham Lincoln’ consistently produces huge crops of extra-large, meaty fruit.

The second tomato variety I chose is an heirloom organic. I picked Botanical Interests Pole Cherokeepole cherokee purple tomato varieties will be grown for summer time eating Purple. I have grown this tomato before and really enjoy it. Pole Cherokee is a big, meaty, tasty hunkin’ tomato. The meat is firm and there really is not a lot of excess juice (which I like).

The company advertising states: 80 days from transplanting. Indeterminate. Cherokee’s rose/purple skin with green shoulders encases red brick colored flesh with just the right level of sweetness. You’ll be harvesting large numbers of 10 to 12 oz. tomatoes from this well regarded heirloom variety from summer to fall. The flavor has been described as yummy, tasty, wonderful, delicious, heavenly, and unbelievable! Provide support for vigorous vines that reach 6 feet or more. The package states organic and labeled NO GMO

Planted – 4 pots with 4 seeds each on March 1. I planted 4 of the plants the second week of June (family vacation trumped planting this year) So far this year, as of September 18th, I picked about 16 lbs. The Cherokee Pole plants are smaller plants than the Abe Lincolns but frankly I think they taste better and grow larger fruits.

tomatoes_on_the_vine
tomato vines with tomatoes

I planted 8 plants along the north side of garden bed 1. Spacing is as instructed – 2 feet apart. The other plants in the bed are peppers and eggplants. The spacing away from the tomatoes is also 2 feet. This year I have kept the plants trimmed. I cut off about two thirds of the leaves trying to keep air circulating. Any leaves that hit the ground were immediately removed. Watering was kept on the light side and during the late morning to give the plants time to dry. So far, as of September 18th, all the plants have stayed healthy. I do cage my plants and frankly they do well. What is great – no chemicals used on the plants. Just 2 doses of Miracle Grow 10-10-10 fertilizer early in the season nothing more. About as organic as I get!!!

Over Labor Day my grown children “went shopping” in the garden. Each ended up with tomatoes, as well as other veggies, to bring home.

As of October 11, all tomato plants were pulled. We ended up with 8 plants producing 35 lbs. of tomatoes. That is only 4+ lbs. per plant. In theory we should have been able to grow about 60+ lbs. with 8 tomato plants. With the early summer cold and damp and the summer very dry I can excuse away. Others that also garden stated their tomatoes were somewhat the same as ours so….. Still for the investment in 2 packages of seeds – roughly $4.00 we were able to produce (based on our local supermarket prices of $1.50/lb.) $52.00 in tomatoes for the season. All were eaten, saved and given away.

Back to vegetable garden bed 1

Just a quick note, I always like to try different ideas. For the 2014 garden I tried growing a tomato from Canada that turned out to be a hybrid. The tomatoes that I took the seeds from were large, juicy and delicious. The tomatoes that grew from the seeds ended up being a plumb tomato. They were not overly tasty at all. So…word of warning.

2014 Vegetable Garden

Strawberry are great fruits to grow in the vegetable garden. Ordinary strawberry fruit ripen in June in the Northeast USVegetable Garden

So this is the gardening section of the blog. Gardens and garden work for me are “Zen”. Vegetable gardens are the ultimate in Zen. If planned correctly and managed, vegetable gardens provide food and satisfaction. If managed well, vegetable gardens save money and provide quality food that can be “chemical” free and GMO free. For me that is very important. I started my vegetable garden for several reasons:

First – I am cheap. Food prices and quality have become a joke. I can go to any store and find plenty of fresh food. Problem – Look at the prices – ridiculous;

 Second – what is the quality of the food being sold – are there pesticide residues? What about GMO? Has the food been genetically engineered? If you don’t know much about some of the concerns people are raising about GMO just surf the web there are plenty of articles. You can also watch documentaries. Vermont passed a law requiring GMO foods to be labeled as such in grocery stores;

Third – a well-planned and managed vegetable garden can and will provide food long after the fall frosts have come and shut down the garden season. I like that because I hate spending money and just think, as the “preppers” out there say…well you know ;

Fourth – there is a lot to be said for “thinking globally and acting locally”. No better efficiency in field-to-table than backyard-to-table. Think of the saved fossil fuels & labor; and finally

Fifth – Gardening is a science experiment. For the last three years I have changed up tactics, tried new varieties. I like to grow cabbage. I have tried various ways to control cabbage moths – picking off the eggs works best and there is no need for pesticides. Last year I tried new tomatoes (heirloom), it was an unmitigated disaster. Blight took all of them. This year I will try something different. The ultimate goal of my garden is to grow enough vegetables for a summer and fall of good eating and then enough for the entire winter. Pretty lofty goal!!

With all that said, my garden for 2014 will consist of three beds that are 8’ x 16’ and a section along the back yard fence that is allocated for 12′ x 4′ of potatoes, 8’ of garlic and 8’ of shallots.

Bed # 1 will be filled with a “crop” that should be planted late May and stay viable until Frost.