Eggplants are one of the best choices that you can make for your garden here in central Texas as they are very productive. Eggplant is a very drought tolerant plant once it is established.
Eggplants will give you a very bountiful harvest in the summer when most of your vegetables do not want to produce because it is just too hot. They will continue to produce until frost. You will definitely get a big bang for your buck. They do not like to produce fruit when the night time temperatures drop below 50 degrees F as the blossoms will fall off. On the other end of the spectrum eggplants have no problem setting fruit in temperatures over 100 F degrees as long as they have adequate moisture and nutrients.
The fruit of eggplant is actually a berry.
Eggplant is an exceptional vegetable that has a very good amount of dietary fiber, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Folate, potassium, manganese, copper, B1, Omega 3 and Omega 6 and good amounts of B6, Folate, magnesium, tryptophan, and B3. Eggplant is also high in Phenolic Antioxidant Compounds, and Nasunin.
If you are in Europe you would call eggplant aubergine travel over to India and eggplant is called brinjal.
Eggplant has been around for a very long time. The roots of the wild eggplant have traditionally been used for asthma and internal hemorrhaging. The leaves and bark of the wild eggplant were used against dysentery and as a vegetable as well. The wild eggplant grows up to 7 feet tall and has leaves that are spiny. It has was growing in the wild in a large area of northeast India and Burma, Northern Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and Southwest China. If you go to these areas you can still find wild plants there, much like you can find chile penguins here in Central Texas.
Eggplant was first grown for crops in the Indo-Burma region in 300 BCE. Eggplant moved to China in the same era as it was recorded in the Atlas of Plants in Southern China. This was written during the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316 CE). Around the 8th century eggplant reached Japan.
Eggplant moved westward to Persia early however the first written account is by a Persian scholar Al Razi (865-925) who referred to the purple eggplant for dental disease.
The Muslim expansion brought eggplant to the Mediterranean Basin but the ancient Greeks and Romans did not get a chance to enjoy this wonderful vegetable yet. In the 8th century eggplant continued to move westward to East Africa. It was brought there by Persian and Arab sailors. Then it moved to Ethiopia and on to Southern Spain.
In 1256 Albertus Magnus, who was a German Philosopher, theologian and scientist wrote De Vegetabilibus, and eggplant was in the book.
In 1806 Thomas Jefferson brought eggplant to the United States, however it was usually used as an ornamental and not a vegetable until about 50 years ago.
John Baptist brought eggplant to Australia in 1850, however it did not become popular until 1950.
(Daunay, and Janick 16-18)
Start eggplant seeds 8 – 12 weeks before planting outdoors. For our Central Texas Region that translates to January 15 and May 15. Eggplants start out very slow growing so do not be concerned if they are growing slow from seed as this is very normal. Keep the seeds moist until they germinate. This should take one to two weeks. Transplant your seedlings to the garden when they have 3 to 4 true leaves. Water eggplant transplants 12-14 hours before transplanting into the garden. Transplant eggplant in the evening to reduce shock. Make sure to harden eggplant off before you transplant them to the garden. Eggplants are very susceptible to flea beetles when young. I suggest using floating row covers or using Diatomaceous Earth to control the Flea Beetles so they do not destroy your little babies that you have so painstakingly raised. Eggplants will still have flea beetles attack them when they are older but it is not so detrimental to them. Continue to give them lots of love and care and you will have a great harvest.
Choose a site with full sun. Eggplant prefers well drained soil. Do not be afraid as this covers only about half of you in the Central Texas area. Eggplant will thrive in clay as well as we typically have very dry summers and the clay will help keep the soil moist. You must add a lot of compost to the soil if you have clay. Eggplant likes a humus rich soil. Do not plant eggplants where solanaceous crops (such as potato, tomato,and pepper) were planted the year before.
Transplant your seedling outside after all chance of frost has gone and the soil has warmed. The daytime temperatures should be at least 70 degrees F and the nighttime temperatures above 50 degrees F. The dates for us in Central Texas are March 15 and a second planting in the summer around July 15. Keep in mind that the plants that you planted in March will be going full steam ahead by July 15. Your goal should be to get as many plants in as you can early so the plants will be as big and as productive as they can for as long as they can. The second planting is good if you missed the first, as the plants will not get near as big as the ones you planted in March. It takes about 120 days for eggplant to come to maturity.
Plant eggplants 2 feet apart from each other. Be careful not to use too much nitrogen fertilizer as the eggplants will put out a lot of foliage and not as much fruit.
Mulching is essential for a good supply of eggplants. Put a 4 inch layer of mulch to control weeds and keep the eggplants moist thorough out the season. Mulch also keeps water from splashing on the plants, this keeps bacterial and fungal diseases down. Make sure to adequately water your eggplants. If they are looking very sad by mid morning and drooping that is a sign that they need watering. This is very important during times of fruit set and flowering. If there is not adequate water you may end up with blossom end rot. Make sure to stake your eggplants or the stems will break sue to the heavy load of eggplants. You can use a steak or tomato cages work very well.
Fertilize with an organic fertilizer that has 30% nitrogen, 50% phosphorus, and 30% potassium at the time of planting. 3 weeks after transplanting fertilize with 15% nitrogen and potassium. 6 weeks after transplanting 15% nitrogen, 50% phosphorus and 15% potassium, During the 1st harvest 10% Nitrogen and 10 % potassium, the next three consecutive harvests each 2 weeks apart should all be fertilized at the 10% nitrogen and 10%potassium rate.
Eggplants have suckers just like tomatoes, funny, they are in the same family! The reason for pruning eggplant, is so that the suckers or side shoots do not take up all the nutrients that the plant needs to grow and produce fruit. You need to have two main stems or branches and one beneath that for a total of three branches. Make sure to cut the branches off with clean sharp sanitized pruning shears. Disinfect your shears with hot soapy water and bleach so you do not spread disease from one plant to another. You need to prune the sucker each month. So set a date on your calender and stick to it.
Along with pruning the suckers, you need to remove the old leaves from the bottom of the plant for good air circulation. This prevents many of the fungal and bacterial diseases that the eggplant may contract. Once again make sure to use sharp clean pruning shears and disinfect between each plant so you do not spread disease.
Late summer to early fall you will have mountains of eggplant as this is the time they will be most productive. Your pepper plants will be producing right along with the eggplant. You should have harvested your onions and garlic and put up your tomatoes. Now you should be ready for all of the recipes containing eggplant.
Harvesting frequently is very crucial to a bountiful harvest and will increase the production of fruit. The keys to testing eggplant and getting your crop picked at its premium is:
1. Eggplant should be glossy when you harvest it. If the eggplant is no longer glossy it is too mature and it may be bitter or pithy. Picking early is a good general rule.
2. Press the eggplant gently with your thumb, if you can feel the flesh press in and the indentation sprigs back it is time to harvest your eggplant. If the flesh on the eggplant is hard and does not give, then give it a little more time to grow as it is still immature. If the indentation remains then the eggplant is over mature and may be bitter with large seeds a tough skin and may even be brown inside.
One thing to keep in mind with eggplant, bigger is not always better. You can harvest eggplant early if need be, but you do not want over ripe eggplant as the flavor can be bitter, the skin will be tough and the seeds will be large. The longer you leave the eggplant on the plants the less room you are leaving for the plant to produce more flowers which in turn produces more fruit.
When harvesting eggplant use a good pair of pruning shears so you do not damage the plant. You may also use a very sharp knife. Make sure to harvest carefully as eggplants bruise easily. Make sure to harvest with the cap on and a good portion of the stem on. Harvest right before you are going to eat them as they store for 7 days maximum.
It is preferred to pick and use eggplant immediately or the same day as eggplant does not store well. The proper storage temperature for eggplant is 50 degrees F. To store eggplant put it in a loose plastic bag in the refrigerator so it can breathe. You may also put it in a plastic container and use it within a few days.
Choose the most vigorous plants to save seeds from. Pick the fruits from the plants that have produced the best tasting fruits. Wait until the end of the season to leave the eggplants on the plant to ripen as it will slow down the production of fruit. Make sure that the eggplants that you are choosing are isolated from other varieties, so you do not have cross pollination. Eggplants must be fully ripe to save the seeds, the skin on the purple varieties should be brownish and brownish yellow in green varieties. Cut the fruits off the plant with pruning shears making sure to disinfect shears in between plants.
Leave eggplants sit in the shade for a week to get soft.
Peel skin off of the eggplant. Slice the bottom of the eggplant where the seeds are very thin. Let sit overnight in water to separate the seeds from the pulp. In the morning dip the pieces of eggplant in fresh water to separate seeds from pulp. Dried seeds will last three years if stored in a cool dry place.
Pests and Diseases
White mold (Sclerotina sclerotiorum) – Increase spacing in between plants and increase drainage by adding compost.
Damping Off – A soil-borne fungus that affects both seeds and young transplants. Do not keep the soil too wet when seedlings are young
Southern Blight – This fungus destroys crops in the Southeastern and Gulf States and is caused by the fungus Sclerotium rolfsii.
The plant is attacked in warm rainy weather. The fungus attacks the plant at the soil line, the plant droops, the leaves wilt, and the plant eventually completes it’s life cycle
Alternaria and Cercospora leaf spot – Alternaria Leaf Spot This fungus is frequent during warm moist conditions and is caused by Alternaria species.
Blossom End Rot – This condition is caused by a calcium deficiency and fluctuations in soil moisture. The condition always affects the blossom end of the fruit and usually occurs when the fruit is one third to one half of it’s full grown size. You will first notice a small water soaked area around the blossom end of the fruit. The lesion will rapidly increase in size, decay and become brown or black and leathery. To avoid Blossom End Rot maintain uniform moisture.
Bibliography: Daunay, Marie-Christine, and Jules Janick. “History and Iconography of Eggplant.” Chronica Horticulturae. 47.3 (2007): 16-18. Print.