Few vegetable plants are handsomer than eggplant, a Southeast Asian native. It resembles a little tree, 2–3 ft. tall and equally wide. Big leaves (usually lobed) are purple tinged; drooping violet flowers are 1 1/2 in. across. And, of course, big purple fruits are spectacular.
Effective in large containers or raised beds; a well-spaced row of eggplant makes a distinguished border between vegetable and flower garden.
Most gardeners plant large roundish or oval varieties such as ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Burpee Hybrid’, ‘Dusky’, or ‘Early Beauty’.
The Japanese, who prefer their eggplant small and very tender, prefer long, slender varieties sold under a number of names, such as ‘Ichiban’.
Specialists in imported vegetable seeds offer numerous colored varieties— including the full-size ‘White Beauty’—and a host of smaller varieties in a range of sizes (down to 1/2 in.) and colors—white, yellow, red, green. Some of the smaller ones genuinely resemble eggs. All are edible as well as attractive.
Can be grown from seed (sow indoors 8–10 weeks before the date of the last expected frost), but starting from nursery-grown plants is much easier.
To produce a crop, eggplant needs 2–3 months of warm days and nights (night temperatures no lower than 65°F/18°C). Set plants out in spring when frost danger is past and soil is warm. Space 3 ft. apart in loose, fertile soil. Feed once every 6 weeks; control weeds.
If you enjoy tiny whole eggplants, allow plants to produce freely. If you prefer larger fruits, keep too much fruit from setting by pinching out some terminal growth and some blossoms; three to six large fruits per plant will result. Harvest fruits after they develop some color, but don’t wait until they lose their glossy shine.
A second crop for late summer and fall harvest can be grown in warmest climates.
Flea beetles can be a problem on young plants; grow under row covers until they are big enough to tolerate leaf damage. Control aphids and whiteflies.
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