Roots 'n' Shoots: Eggplant: How To Grow - Fruit of the Month

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Eggplant: How To Grow - Fruit of the Month

Eggplant stats/requirements at a glance


Ease of Raising:
3/5 – Bi-weekly check up
Water:
4/5 – Daily (mostly during fruit set)
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun, no shade (fruit ripening)
Training:
3/5 – Needs some, pinching out of flowers/growth
Fertilise/Feeding:
3-4/5 – Monthly (growing) to Fornightly (fruiting)
Time to Harvest:
2/5 – Soon (1-2 months after flowering)
Frost Hardiness
1/4 – Very Tender (cannot take light frost)


Uses:
Culinary, Pollinator attractor
Most Problematic Nemesis: 
Eggplant Rust
Container Plant:
Preferable

Solanum melogena
Afbeeldingen der artseny-gewassen met derzelver Nederduitsche en Latynsche beschryvingen 1796
Kurt Stubers Online Library

Quick intro

You either like eggplant or you don’t. I wasn’t a big fan of eggplant, but since eating fresh eggplant from the garden and knowing the best way to prepare it, I do eat it a lot more regularly. Also, there are varieties that are not so bitter than the usual black (purple) eggplant. Eggplants are generally a no-fuss. They do get eggplant rust in spring, but after much experimenting I have developed an enviro-friendly control for it. J


History

Eggplants (aubergines or brinjals, whatever you prefer J) are native to tropical Asia and were first cultivated in India. Its popularity spread during the 18th century and is now grown in warm, tropical and subtropical areas worldwide. In cooler parts of the world it is grown in greenhouses (glasshouse). Eggplants have many varieties, including small green ones, medium sized white fruits and the large ‘Black Beauty’ we are all familiar with.


Science Stuff

Solanum melongena, as the name suggests, belongs to the Solanaceae Family, which includes potato, tobacco, peppers, nightshade and of course tomato!

Again the purple colour of the fruit is brought on by the bitter tasting Anthocyanin, which can be visualised in a range of colours from red-blue, depending on the pH of the surrounding tissue.

The eggplant is considered a berry in botanical terms and its seeds are bitter tasting due to them containing an alkaloid, known as nicotine J - not enough to do any harm J. Alkaloids are generally produced by plants to prevent herbivores from eating them.


Growing Eggplant

Eggplants are easily raised from seed when the ground is warm enough after the last frost. You can let them germinate and grow inside, and then transplant outside once true leaves have formed. This can be done if the soil has not warmed sufficiently and to get a head start on the growing season J. You can also buy seedlings from the local nursery.

Make a 1-2cm hole in the soil, place a seed inside and sprinkle with soil to cover. You will have a seedling popping out of the soil in about 1-2 weeks. Thereafter, the eggplants grow quickly in a sunny warm spot. It is usually at this stage when they start to get eggplant rust, especially if it rains a lot. See my Pest Control page for a solution to your eggplant rust problem J. The rust below is likely the Pearl Millet rust, Puccinia substriata, and infects eggplant during their aecial  life stage (sexual). Whereas grasses, such as the Millet are infected during the fungi's uredinial life stage (asexual) and the millet remains the main site for fungal population persistence. See my Eggplant Rust post for a full profile on the disease.


Eggplant Rust - orange aeciospores

Eggplants do need some training, but not nearly as extensive as for tomatoes. They need one sturdy stake tied to the main stem, this prevents any wind damage and assist with the weight of the developing fruits. I can not remember whether I heard this or read this as none of my reference books have it, but do not let your eggplant carry more than 8 fruits at any time. If more flowers develop, simply remove them so that you can get eggplant fruits earlier. If eggplants are removed, flowers can be allowed to set again, keeping the number at 8. Also, only let one eggplant flower occupy the same flowering stem, as illustrated below.

Just snip the smaller flower off 


Eggplants do well in containers and this opens space in the main garden for larger and more nutrient hungry vegetables (such as cauliflower/broccoli). Container saucers must be kept full once fruit set starts to allow fruits to swell. Fertilising is also increased from monthly to every two weeks when fruit set starts.  They love sun, so put them in a warm sunny spot with 6-8 hours of full sunlight.


Other eggplant tips

Eggplants are perennial and can be kept through the winter (in areas that have a warm enough winter with no snow) to fruit immediately once spring is in full swing. So what you can do is keep one through the winter and then plant a new one during the next growing season and then you can remove the older one from the last season when it has finished fruiting for the second time J. This allows the new one to grow and will you still get eggplants from the old one.

Do not grab the eggplant by its calyx or sepals – the green leftovers from the flower, as they have nasty thorns that can do quite some damage J.

Eggplant Calyx
Solanum melongena

The flowers and stigma detached quite well, unlike the tomato flowers that can remain on the fruit during set and will damage/scar the fruit.

Make sure to prepare the containers for the eggplants with a good amount of kitchen waste and pot ash. I feed them Starke Ayres Nutrifeed (monthly and fortnightly), the Cultura 2:3:2 granulated fertiliser (sprinkled every month), see Composting.


Harvesting & Storing

Eggplants are harvested once the fruit has a uniform purple colour. Do not leave the fruit on the plant for too long (exceeding I would say about 20cm in length) as they become progressively bitter. But on the same note, it is better to ‘store’ the fruit on the plant and use immediately as they become bitter after being picked. If all else fails, the eggplants should keep well in the fridge (in a baggy with a few water drops) for about a week. -  no freezing away, unfortunately, because the flesh is too tender – so you’ll have to settle for store bought eggplants in winter or just have it seasonally.

Just a few notes on preparing eggplants. If you want proper recipes, it is good to look at Asian cuisine, especially Indian and Chinese – they really know what to do with an eggplant J. Otherwise, we have found that brushing the eggplant with a little bit of oil (rosemary or thyme flavoured oil complements the eggplant really well) and then grilling or roasting it, makes for a fine and sweet eggplant.

Seed Saving

Seeds saving with all fruiting plants remains the same. Leave the last fruit on the dying plant to let it ferment (past eating stage) and ‘naturally’ prepare the seeds for planting for you. The fruit will ripen and go brown, yellow or orange (it really gets nasty J) and fall from the plant. Leave the fruit for another two weeks! Remove the seeds, rub between your fingers to separate and wash in a sifter. The seeds are placed in a little water and those that sink are considered viable and will be saved. The seeds are dried thoroughly on a paper towel for about a day and then store in labelled glass jars. The seeds will last for about 4 years.

White Eggplant (Rosa Bianca)
Physiologically (botanically) ripe
Do not eat - too bitter! Leave for seeds!
The seeds are held in water at 50oC (122oF) for 25 minutes before planting to kill any diseases that may remain on the seeds.

My Eggplants

I have Starke Ayres Black Beauty: A very good variety in terms of resistance and fruiting.

And a Rosa Bianca (Franchi seeds, a bit expensive, but save its seeds J): This is a white eggplant and is a good idea to try if you do not like the black eggplants that can be bitter, as its flesh will be tender and not bitter. I struggled to it germinated so I’ll probably get to taste it next year J.

Eggplant flower
Solanum melongena






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10 comments:

  1. My eggplants are about to start producing - can't wait.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Another nice post. Who would thought potatoes and tobacco and eggplants are from the same family!!?? Eggplant seeds contain nicotine - that's really informative, new idea. Also, it is a berry!!! Who would think about that?

    By the way, I have to tell you that I freeze my eggplants and they are fine. I can freeze them whole (for roasting purposes) or cut them in small pieces and then freeze. I then enjoy them throughout the winter :-).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well it is good to know you can freeze eggplants away like that! I'll try that with my eggplants, Thanx! Because most freezing calls for blaching and that makes for snotty eggplants :)

    Under my edibles section I have a quick and dirty explanation on most of the botanical terms for fruits and vegetables. Technically all angiosperms (flowering plants) are considered fruits, because their seeds are all contained in some form of fruit. So that would make carrots and lettuce botanical fruits, although they are considered culinary vegetables. Gymnosperms, conifers and other cone baring plants, are not flowering and do not produce fruits :) It can get all very confusing if you mix culinary and botanical definitions on whether a plant is a fruit or vegetable :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. My eggplants are the happiest plants in my garden. They are on the second bloom and I will go for the 8 plant rle.
    Thanks for your article
    I found it very informative

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanx! Please feel free to check out my other articles as well :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks . very useful info .. which are easiest to grow .. chillies , tomatoes or brinjals . my chillies are well growing and brinjals .. but brinjals didnt bear fruit so gonna try ur suggestions . thanks

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have ample of flowers growing but no fruits what to do plz let me known

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey hey!
    Sumit - it sounds to me like you might have a pollination problem. I would suggest grabbing a paint brush (the sable/horse hair ones work well) and then brushing the stamens of the flowers (the parts with yellow pollen, make sure it's bright and fuzzy then you know the pollen is mature) then transfer this to the stigma (the flat sticky structure in the middle of the flower). You can dab a bit of pollen on their and it should stick to it - that should sort out the fruiting problem. If you are not sure of the structures I am referring to you can check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flower
    Else you can try to attract more insects to your garden, but it will take some time to build the population, which in the mean time means manual pollination - you can check out my Insectary post as well @ http://rsandss.blogspot.com/2013/12/insectary-beneficial-insects-garden.html

    ReplyDelete
  9. Regarding pollination, I would like to know how to attract more insects to my veggie patch. I have lots of rose bushes with lots of bees and yet no eggplants? I am too old to do the artificial pollination. ....help!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hey hey!
    A long-term solution would be to attract more pollinators, especially generalists to your garden. Setting up an insectary in your garden is ideal, you can view my post on this here:
    http://rsandss.blogspot.com/2013/12/insectary-beneficial-insects-garden.html

    In the short term, you can see whether giving the plants a good shake will do -sometimes this aids in tomato flower pollination (and considering the similar flower structure it may help for the eggplants too!)...

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete

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