Tag Archives: eggplants

Growing Eggplants: Tips for Success

Homegrown eggplants are tender, mild, and perfect for summer grilling or classic recipes like eggplant parmesan, baba ganoush, and ratatouille. These heat-loving vegetables can be tricky to grow, though. After years of growing eggplants, we’ve compiled some tips for success.

The Basics

Start your eggplants indoors 8 to 10 weeks before your last frost, and harden them off outdoors for 1 to 2 weeks before transplanting. Plant your eggplants in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Space them equidistant 24 inches apart or 20 inches apart in rows 30 inches apart.

Tips for Success

Eggplants can be challenging to grow, but these tips will ensure success.

Avoid setting plants out too early.

Eggplant seedlings are susceptible to cold temperatures. Attempting to harden them off too early can shock your plants and stunt their growth. If a late cold snap occurs, bring them outdoors during the day, but keep bringing them in at night until the temperature warms.

Garden beds with row cover
Row cover protecting White Beauty Eggplant from flea beetles.

Keep pests off your seedlings.

Young eggplants are highly susceptible to pest pressure, especially flea beetles. There are a few different methods you can use to protect your seedlings.

  • Harden seedlings off on a table at least 3 feet tall. Few issues occur at this height.
  • Use organic control methods like pyrethrum or diatomaceous earth.
  • Cut the bottoms off 1-gallon milk jugs and place them over the seedlings with the lids off.
  • Use row cover to protect young eggplants and remove it just before flowering to allow pollinators to reach the blooms.

Older eggplants require less protection. They can still produce well even with quite a bit of flea beetle damage on their leaves.

Feed your eggplants.

Eggplants enjoy fertile soil that’s rich in organic matter. Adding several inches of finished compost to your bed before planting can encourage good production. You can also mix a bit of compost into your transplant holes.

If you’re growing eggplants in containers, giving them a bit of extra nutrition is a good idea, especially when they’re flowering and setting fruit. You can use an organic vegetable fertilizer or make your own compost tea. 

Provide support for eggplants.

Eggplants loaded with fruit are prone to lodging or falling over. Set up stakes, tomato cages, or other supports early to ensure your plants don’t lodge later. Securing the plants while they’re still small will prevent you from damaging them or knocking off fruit later. 

Keep the soil moist.

Eggplants produce best when they have moist soil but not soggy soil. Check the soil and water regularly to keep it consistently moist for best production.

Louisiana Long Green (Green Banana) EggplantApply mulch.

Mulching around your plants can help suppress weeds, keep the soil moist, and add additional organic matter. We like to mulch around eggplants with an organic mulch like straw or old leaves.

Harvest your eggplants regularly. 

Regular harvesting will encourage your eggplants to keep producing. We find that the small fruits have the best eating quality. Eggplants are ripe when the skin appears glossy, and the fruit is resilient to thumb pressure. When your eggplants mature, harvest them by clipping the stem with scissors or garden snips. 

Rotate your eggplants and other crops.

Eggplants can be affected by many of the same diseases, like verticillium wilt, that affect other nightshades, such as tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. Rotate your crops yearly and avoid growing any nightshades in the same plot for at least two years.

Eggplants are tasty, beautiful additions to the summer garden. They can be fun to grow, too! Even beginners can succeed with eggplants if you follow a few simple tips.

Grow Eggplant this Year

With tomatoes and peppers ubiquitous in vegetable gardens, eggplants are often the nightshade left out. But even if your summers are on the cool side or the short side, you too can have homegrown eggplants. On our farm in central Virginia, shorter season varieties are often our best performing when summer is unusually cool or wet, and their faster-maturing fruits are the first to arrive at the table.

Southern Exposure sells four early-maturing eggplants: Applegreen (65 days, green-white skin), Early Black Egg (65 days, Japanese origin, deep-purple skin), Morden Midget (65 days, Canadian origin, deep-purple skin), and Ping Tung Long (62 days, Taiwanese origin, lavender skin).

I’m partial to long skinny eggplants (I like chopping them into thin half-moons), so Ping Tung Long is my favorite. I find that Asian varieties substitute well in Italian and European recipes. The lavender skins darken with cooking to a purple-tan color.

My current favorite eggplant recipe follows: a Sicilian Caponata. Caponata is vegan and gluten-free, and so full of flavor that no one will notice.

Sicilian Caponata

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s blog. Lebovitz requires deep-frying the eggplant in batches. This oven-roasted version cuts the oil somewhat, and is so much easier, and I think tastes just as good.

6 celery stalks
2 pounds eggplant (Italian or Asian types)
olive oil
1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced (yellow or white will work but red is best)
1 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup capers, rinsed
1-1/2 cups tomato sauce (as a variation, make a quick, fresh sauce by simmering 3-4 diced Roma-type tomatoes in a small amount of water with salt to taste for 20-30 minutes.)
1/4 cup vinegar (red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey (or to taste)
Chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley for garnish

Roast the Eggplant:
1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Trim the stems off the eggplants, halve lengthwise, and slice into 1/2-inch pieces (half-moons work well for long-types, otherwise 1/2 inch cubes).
3. Toss the eggplant pieces with 1/2 to 1 tsp salt and 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil (it will soak up quite a lot). Spread on a baking dish and cook for 30-45 minutes, until the eggplant pieces are soft (easily pierced with a fork) and the skins have begun to darken.

Assemble the Caponata
1. Boil a medium-size pot of water. Cut the celery stalks into 1/2-inch slices. Simmer the celery until just tender, around 7 minutes. Drain and immerse in cold water to stop the cooking.
2. In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently until translucent, around 7 minutes. Add the drained celery, olives, capers, tomato sauce, vinegar, and honey and bring to a low boil.
3. Add the eggplant and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring gently.
4. Taste and add additional salt and vinegar as desired. Transfer to a large shallow serving bowl to cool.

Serving: Allow to cool before serving, or refrigerate and serve the next day (this gives the flavors time to meld). Garnish with the chopped parsley to serve. May also be served as bruschetta — spread on bread slices that have been spread with olive oil and oven-toasted.