Eggplant is a member of the nightshade family, which includes potato and tomato. It is a great source of fiber and has a fair amount of iron, potassium and protein.
Eggplant prefers well drained, fertile, sandy loam soils with a pH between 5.5 and 7.2. The higher the organic matter content of the soil the better, so incorporate a 3 to 4 inch layer of compost if possible.
There are many different varieties of eggplant, including the small, round, green ‘Kermit’ eggplants, the skinny, long Japanese pickling eggplant, and the traditional large ‘Black Bell’ eggplant.
Although eggplant can be seeded directly into the garden, it is better for the beginning gardener to use transplants. If you can’t find the varieties you want in garden centers, make sure you start seeds 6 to 8 weeks before they are to be transplanted outside. Grow the seeds indoors. They will germinate in 5 days if kept at 86 degrees F, but could take up to 14 days at 65 degrees F. Eggplant is a tropical plant, so it is very sensitive to cold and should not be planted outside until after all risk of frost has passed and daytime temperatures are at least 65 degrees F. The plants will grow to 2 to 4 feet, so space them 24 to 36 inches apart.
Eggplant needs a consistent supply of nutrients. Add a total of 2 to 3 pounds of a complete fertilizer (6-12-12, 10-10-10, or 9-16-16) per 1,000 square feet. Apply half the fertilizer before planting and the other half after the first fruits appear.
It is helpful to pour 1/4 cup of starter solution around each plant. Make a starter solution by dissolving 2 tablespoons of a complete fertilizer in 1 gallon of water.
Eggplant also needs consistent water, at least 1 inch per week. It is better to give one thorough soaking than several frequent, short waterings, frequent watering promotes shallow roots. Weather and soil type, of course, will affect water demand. High temperatures, high winds, and sandy soils will all increase the need for watering.
The fruit can be harvested when they are 1/3 to full size. Harvest before the skin becomes dull and the seeds become hard. General rule is if you lightly press the side of the fruit with your thumbnail and the indentation stays, then the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked.
Handle the harvested fruit gently so they don’t get bruised.
Eggplant can be cooked many ways. It can be baked, stewed, sautéed, fried or stuffed. It can be cooked whole or in pieces. It can be cubed and used in curries and stews. Eggplant Parmesan is always a dinner time success dish.
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