Growing Eggplant - September 22, 2010
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
Eggplant performs well in summer gardens of northern Arizona – especially in the Verde Valley. Eggplant can be prepared in many different ways: I especially like it in Mediterranean style dishes. At the end of the season, excess eggplant can be combined with tomatoes and other summer garden vegetables to make hearty marinara sauce or a garden vegetable soup. It is fairly easy to grow, but there are a few tricks that will help you to be more successful with eggplant.
Eggplant requires a sunny location and fertile, well-drained soil for best yields. It is most easily grown using transplants. Prepare the soil as you would for tomato plants: I incorporate lots of compost, a complete organic fertilizer (such as 4-2-2), and a small amount of triple super phosphate in the planting hole. Use row covers or hot caps to protect the plants when transplanting before the frost-free period. If planted too early without frost protection, plants can be killed by light frost and/or grow poorly in cool conditions. This year, I transplanted my eggplant in early May and used walls-o-water for frost protection. They even had snow on them for a day or so, but the plants were warm and cozy in their protected environment.
Like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes, eggplant is in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family. These plants should not be planted in the same space year after year. Crop rotation is an easy way to prevent diseases and insects without great effort. By rotating crops, you are removing the host plant and preventing the spread of disease. This also helps prevent damage from soil borne insects and soil depletion over time. Most resources recommend rotating crops on a four year schedule: nightshade crops to cucurbits and corn to legumes to greens. Beets, carrots and radishes may be planted among any group, and replanted as early crops are removed. Every home gardener should keep a journal with planting dates, locations, varieties, and results.
Most eggplant varieties will grow in our area, but many are not available as transplants. Most garden centers and nurseries carry varieties that have been proven to grow well and produce high quality fruits under local conditions. ‘Black Beauty’ is a standard large purple/black variety that forms one- to three-pound fruits with excellent flavor. ‘Ichiban’ is an Asian variety producing long, slender, deep purple, almost black fruit with a mild flavor and non-bitter skin. There are many other varieties to try. This year, I also grew ‘Rosa Bianca’ and it performed very well in the garden and in the kitchen. There are many other eggplant varieties, many of them ethnic, and I would guess that most of them would do well in our warm summer climate.
A major insect pest of eggplant is the flea beetle: a small iridescent, black beetle that feeds on seedlings and young plants. These small insects can jump and take refuge in the soil when not feeding. They chew small holes in the leaves which reduce plant vigor and slow growth. Frost protection strategies can also enhance the environment for flea beetles. They usually become less numerous in the hottest part of summer, but can slow the growth and production of eggplant by eating the leaves during the early season. Sevin dust is an effective conventional pesticide to manage flea beetles. Botanical pesticides recommended for controlling flea beetles include neem, rotenone, pyrethrin, and sabadilla. Organic growers also use cultural controls such as trap cropping and companion planting. Yellow and white sticky card traps can also be used.
Eggplant is generally harvested when fruits are full size, have a glossy sheen, and are 6 to 8 inches long. Fruits that are firm, plump and fully colored, with smooth, waxy skin have the best flavor and quality. If they go from glossy to a duller finish, they are over ripened. Use a knife or pruning shears to cut the stem when harvesting rather than twisting off the fruits. Use them when freshly picked for best flavor. If you have not grown eggplant before, try it next year – you’ll love it!
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Last Updated: September 15, 2010
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