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GroEdibles Blog

Mar 28

Spotlight Veg of the Week: Eggplant

Posted by HGEL on 28 Mar 2011. Filed under  Spotlight View Comments

See…Eggplant is even in the movies!

Movie Name: Scooby-Doo (2002)

Quote: [Talking to Scooby Doo]

Shaggy: “The only thing I like better than an eggplant burger is a chocolate covered eggplant burger.”

Not only is this fruit delicious, it is also a beautiful addition to your edible landscape as it brings gorgeous color, shape of leaf, a knock-out flower and of course the lovely characteristics of its fruit to your garden.

Botanical Name

Solanum melongena, Solanum integrifolium, Solanum gilo

Common Names

Eggplant, eggfruit, aubergine, brinjal, tomato-fruited eggplant, gilos, guinea squash, mad apple, nasubi

Eggplant Origin, History and Folklore

Eggplant is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Keep this in mind in your crop rotation plan. Its origin is considered to be India where it continues to grow wild. This fruit has been cultivated throughout India and China for more than 1500 years.

Cultural Requirements

Eggplant is a cold-sensitive vegetable that requires a long warm season for best results. The culture of eggplant is similar to that of bell pepper, with transplants being set in the garden after all danger of frost is past. Eggplants are slightly larger plants than peppers and this should be considered when spacing. Although relatively easy to grow, Eggplant does require some attention for a good harvest. Small-fruited, exotic-colored and ornamental varieties can be grown in containers and used for decorations.

It does well in a variety of soil textures, but prefers rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. It thrives in full sun and requires at least five months of warm weather for fruit production.

The optimum daytime growing temperature ranges between 70°F and 85°F. When temperatures rise above 95°F, eggplant ceases to set fruit and may drop flowers or abort immature fruit. Fruit set is also reduced when temperatures fall below 60°F.

Because eggplant requires a long growing season, gardeners typically set out transplants in March or whenever all danger of frost has passed and daytime temperatures are consistently above 70°F. A gentle reminder – temperatures below 50°F can damage these tropical natives so, if an unexpected cold spell hits, cover the plants to provide protection.

Eggplants prefer consistent soil moisture, but once established can tolerate dry spells. Although the majority of water- and nutrient-absorbing roots are found in the top 18 inches of soil, roots can reach a depth of 4 feet. To avoid flower and fruit drop, water deeply and regularly, especially during long, dry periods.

To conserve soil moisture, apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around the base of each plant. In intense heat of summer, provide a little midday sun protection. Try intercropping on the north side of a taller, wider plant or, depending on your garden’s location and layout, partial shade can be provided by mature trees or by shade cloth. Eggplant can be grown successfully in containers too…just provide a deep enough pot to accommodate the root system. Choose smaller plant varieties and large containers with good drainage. Be prepared to water more often, since the soil tends to dry out more quickly in containers.

Starting from Seed

Start seed indoors in January, 4 to 8 weeks prior to planting. Sow seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in flats or seed pots filled with rich soil mixture. Seeds usually germinate in 7 to 14 days, depending on environmental conditions and the age of the seed.

Germination temperatures range from 70°F to 90°F, so it is important to keep the soil warm. You may need to provide bottom heat and/or cover the flats or pots to maintain soil temperatures.

Adequate moisture is essential to germination. Try misting, rather than watering, to maintain soil moisture and keep seeds from washing away or becoming too deeply buried. Once seedlings emerge, continue to keep the soil warm and moist, but not soggy.

To encourage compact, bushy growth, provide seedlings with 12 to 14 hours of bright light, whether natural or artificial. In addition, you may need to apply fertilizer if it is not included in your potting mix.

Transplant seedlings into prepared garden beds, spacing plants 18 to 24 inches from each other, in rows 30 to 36 inches apart. Eggplant is a heavy feeder. Side dress when plants reach about half their mature size, and again when the first fruit is harvested. Although most plants are self-supporting, plants heavy with fruit benefit from some support.


Before planting broadcast 3 lbs. 10-10-10 per 100 square feet. Use an organic starter solution on transplants. Sidedress 1 lb. 10-10-10 per 100 square feet 3 to 4 weeks after planting and repeat in one month if needed. When fruits are swelling, apply a high potash tomato fertilizer.

Pests and Diseases

Eggplant is susceptible to verticillium wilt and the best defense is to rotate plantings (crop rotation) within the Solanaceae family and choose resistant varieties. Pests include flea beetles, aphids, lace bugs, whiteflies, and red spider mites.

When to Harvest and How to Store

Eggplant fruit is edible once it reaches one-third its mature size and, as with many edible plants, regular harvest helps maintain strong fruit production so harvest often. Since the stems are thick, tough, and spiny, fruit should be cut off using pruning shears or a sharp knife.

As with many edibles…harvest when it tastes good to you. Personally, I prefer small, tender fruit and usually harvest my eggplant before it reaches two-thirds its mature size. The key things to look for are a bright, shiny, smooth skin and fruit that firm to the touch. Eggplants with dull skin and soft, wrinkled fruit are over-ripe and, although edible, may be bitter and full of hard brownish black seeds. Over-ripe fruit can be used to save seed.

Eggplant does not store well, even under the best of circumstances, so plan to use it soon after harvesting. It can be stored overnight at room temperature. If longer storage is necessary, don’t refrigerate this tropical native because it suffers when kept too cold. Ideal storage temperature is about 50°F. Another way to help extend the storage life of eggplant is to avoid storing it with ethylene-producing fruits such as apples, bananas, melons or tomatoes.

Some varieties to consider:

Large Oval Fruit

Dusky (60 days to harvest, good size, early production)

Epic (64 days, tear-drop shaped)

Black Bell (68 days, round to oval, productive)

Black Magic (72 days)

Classic (76 days, elongated oval, high quality)

Black Beauty (OP-80 days)

Burpee Hybrid (80 days)

Ghostbuster (80 days; white, slightly sweeter than purple types; 6 to 7 inch oval).

Elongated Fruit

Ichiban (70 days) (my fav!)

Slim Jim (OP-70 days; lavender, turning purple when peanut-sized; good in pots)

Little Fingers (OP-68 days; 6 to 8 inch, long, slim fruit in clusters).

Ornamental Fruit

Easter Egg (52 days; small white, egg-sized, shaped, turning yellow at maturity; edible ornamental)


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