Reproduced below is my latest entry in the Yates spring veggie growing challenge
The summer garden would not be complete without eggplants. These heat-loving fruiting veggies can, in my experience, be a little more difficult to grow successfully than tomatoes and peppers. I think the main reason for this is that they require really warm temperatures in order to grow and fruit well. For this reason, I normally start seedlings a little later than tomatoes and peppers, usually in late August. I’ve still got most of my eggplants sitting on the heat pad, at varying stages of germination, which you can see in the photo accompanying this post. This might sound quite late to some people, but I’ve noticed that once the weather starts warming up in October, they really take off. By contrast, the seedlings which I started back in April and May germinated fine on the heat pad but once they were moved to the greenhouse, where temperatures are considerably cooler, they faltered and most of my plants ended up dying.
This year, I’m growing a selection of round and long varieties. Round eggplants I’ve sowed include “Florence Round Purple” from Kings Seeds (which always performs reliably in the garden), as well as “Prosperosa” and “Tonda Bianca” from Franchi seeds. I also sowed the following varieties of long eggplants: “Dok”, “Asian Bride” and “Tsakoniki” from Kings seeds, as well as “Ping Tung” from Egmont Seeds. I have grown all of these varieties except Ping Tung in past summers. In previous years, I have also grown “Blacknite” and “Black Beauty” from Yates seeds with great success, so I recommend these varieties as well.
It is also possible to purchase grafted eggplants from the garden centre. When I first started gardening, I used to do this as the plants were very large, making success practically fool proof. However, once I gained confidence and started raising eggplants from seed, I stopped buying them as we found the skin (which we usually eat as well as the flesh) very tough. Perhaps the reason lies in the grafting, as the produce often takes on the characteristics of the rootstock.
For some reason, I didn’t have a very good season for eggplants last year, so I’m determined to ensure that my plants get off to a good start this year. As with my tomatoes and peppers, once seedlings grow big enough, I’ll move them off the heat pad but keep them inside the incubators to create a warm growing environment. The next step is to move them into the green house and place them inside the large Sistema crates I’ve been using to keep plants insulated. As the seedlings grow and develop a few leaves, I’ll repot them into 6-cell punnets. Once they are big enough, they will be repotted into 10 cm pots. My own plants probably won’t be very big by Labour weekend. They might still be in 6-cell punnets like previous years. If I want a head start on the season, I’ll simply have to purchase a couple of larger eggplants from the garden centre or Awapuni, a business which sends plants wrapped in newspaper by courier. I normally start planting eggplants into the garden from November onwards, sometimes even into early December. I’ve found that they’re a bit more sensitive to the cold than tomatoes and peppers.
As with capsicums and chillies, I tend to grow our eggplants in large black plastic containers, as I find they do much better this way than being planted in the ground. It also saves space in the garden for root crops such as spuds and kumara, as well as creeping plants that need more space, such as pumpkins, squash and melons.
I don’t normally find it necessary to stake eggplants as the plant can usually support the weight of the fruit. But other gardeners might have different experiences. If you do want to provide plant support, it’s a good idea to do so at the time of planting, to avoid damaging the roots of the plant later on.
For best results, I like to liquid feed eggplants every week from the time of planting until about the end of December, when plants start to develop fruit. I like using Yates Thrive Tomato Liquid Plant Food. While formulated for tomatoes, it’s perfectly fine to use this product on other fruiting plants, such as peppers, zucchini, cucumber, pumpkins and melons.
I don’t normally need to hand pollinate eggplants in order to obtain fruit, but I know some gardeners like or need to do this. Don’t forget to water your plants regularly and deeply. If they’re planted in containers like mine, they will dry out faster and therefore require watering more frequently.
We enjoy using our eggplants in a variety of dishes, including parmigiana, lasagne, pizza and on antipasto platters. It can also be cut up and thrown onto the BBQ. We also sometimes use eggplants in Indian cuisine, such as curries. If you can’t get through all your eggplants at once, don’t worry. We find that they store well in the fridge for a few weeks, or you can do what we do and share some with neighbours and friends.