Eggplant

Quick Grower’s Guide

Sowing Depth ¼”
Plant Spacing 18″ , 2 rows in 36″ wide beds
Germination Soil Temp. 80ºF (26.6ºC)
Day’s to Germination 7
Sow Indoors 4 to 6 weeks before last frost
Sow Outdoors Possible, but not recommended
Growing Soil Temps 80º – 90º F (26.6º – 32.2º C)
Soil pH 5 – 7
Light Requirement Full Sun
Seed Longevity 4 years, refrigerated

General Information:

Eggplant is one of my must have crops. Eggplant is a cold sensitive, warm weather crop. It will produce from mid spring to first frost. It will not produce well until the onset of hot weather. It’s culture is very similar to Peppers but a little larger in size. There are a dozens of varieties ranging from small to large and white to black. I have grown almost all of them with success. They are all delicious prepared in many different ways. Unlike peppers they do not tolerate low temperatures. Do not set out too early as they could be damaged by an unseasonable cold front. Eggplant can even be successfully grown in containers.

Soil Preparation:

Urban Eggplant by ilovememphis, on Flickr

For best results incorporate moderate amounts of compost or well rotted manure deeply dug into the soil. Beware of fresh manure as it may contain seeds, & high concentrations of urine & salts. Rake to break up & remove debris from the soil. Work the soil only when it is dry enough not to stick to garden tools. Since eggplant is a shallow rooted plant it is very sensitive to moisture fluctuations.  Without adequate moisture the shallow roots cannot deliver the require nutrients to produce properly. Form a 36″ wide bed the length of your choice. Using a garden hoe form a shallow trench in the center of the 36″ wide bed about 4″ deep. Do not allow the trench between the 2 rows too extend beyond the end of the beds as this trench will hold water later. The 2 rows in the 36″ wide bed should be about 12″ apart.

Seed starting:

A great Eggplant crop begins with large vigorous health seedlings 6 to 8 weeks old, grown in 4″ or larger growing pots. Growing your own seedlings insure quality and varieties not commercially available. Eggplants seedling are commonly found commercially if you prefer just buying your seedlings. The seeds should be started about 6 to 8 weeks before your average last frost date in your zone, Make sure the seed starting mix is a light sterile soil mix with a liberal portion of Perlite or Vermiculite to maintain moisture. Sow 2 seeds per 4″pot about ¼” deep in pre-moistened growing mix. During the day, keep the seedling next to a sunny window after they have germinated. Move to top of the water heater or refrigerator at night if you do not have a greenhouse. A heated greenhouse will produce ideal, controllable growing conditions. I also use supplemental overhead florescent lighting when needed. Never allow your lights to burn more than 16 hours per day. A cheap electrical timer is the key to success here. Seedlings must be allowed to have a period of rest from light to grow properly. Hang your lights 1½ inches above the tops of the seedlings. This will prevent the seedling from becoming leggy. Raise the lights suspended by a chain as the plants grow. Do not allow the soil to dry out. I feed my newly emerged seedling every other watering cycle. I prefer feeding my young seedlings with Fish Emulsion or liquid seaweed. After they have grown 2 true leaves I use a fertilizer high in phosphorus like Jacks Pro Plant Starter 9-45-15. Fertilize every two weeks until transplant time. Four weeks after seedlings have emerged clip off at the soil line the smallest of the 2 seedlings with scissors.

Fertilization:

Perform a complete soil analysis to determine fertilization needs. Soil sample kits including sample bag and instructions can be obtained from your local county Agricultural extension service office free of charge. However, the fee for the actual soil analysis is usually about $15.00.

Side dress with 2 tablespoon of 13-13-13 balanced fertilizer per plant in trench when eggplants begin to produce blooms and again following the first harvest. Time released fertilizers like Osmocote have become very popular and work great lasting for 4 months. This additional fertilizer will supplement the compost or manure at the peak of production. An organic fertilizer like fish emulsion can be substituted using bi- weekly.

Hardening Off:

It will be necessary to harden off your seedlings before transplanting into the garden bed. The seedling must become accustomed to the harsher elements outdoors. This is accomplished by placing the seedling outside to a sheltered location. At this point the seedlings are very tender and easily broken by wind and rain. Start out by placing the seedling in full morning sunlight for one hour. Increase the time in full sunlight gradually adding time each day. Protect your seedlings from wind and animals to prevent breakage of the tender vegetation. Within two weeks your plants should be able to stand full sunlight the entire day without wilting or burning the tender leaves. At this point your seedlings are ready for the harsh elements of the garden.

Planting & Growing:

Transplant after all danger of frost has passed. Water seedlings well 1 hour before transplanting Water the plants well during transplanting using about 1 pint of starter solution on each transplant, or use commercially prepared starter solution according to manufacturer’s instructions. This can be a weak solution of 20-20-20 general plant food or commercially available root stimulator. This will encourage rapid root growth & produce fruit of acceptable quality.  Plant 2 rows of seedlings spaced about 18″ apart in the center of the outside 1/3′s of the 36″ wide beds. Plants can be set slightly deeper when transplanting. Cover the entire 36″ wide bed including the trench between the rows with leaves or straw mulch. The mulch will retain moisture, attract worms, and reduce the growth of weeds in the beds. Any weeds that do germinate are easily removed by hand or light cultivation. Side-dress plants with 1 tablespoon of 13-13-13 fertilizer in the trench between rows when the plants show first sign of blooming and again immediately after harvest of the first fruits. When it is time to water your plants simply apply a moderate amount of water into the trench between the row you formed earlier. Do not apply water to quickly as you may wash out soil holding the water. The water will slowly soak deeply onto the root zone. Using this method your plants will always have adequate moisture to perform well. It is of great importance that the soil be kept moist and weed free.

Care during the growing season:

Adequate moisture supply is of key importance to eggplant. Check the moisture of the soil often.

Pests & Diseases:

Pests

Flea beetles, Colorado potato beetles, spider mites, Stink bugs, & tomato hornworms.The severity of insect attack is much greater in late crops. It is suggested that the control program start early (emerging seedlings) and continued on a regular basis. Consult your local county extension service office for diagnosis and recommended treatment.

Diseases

Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt, blight

Harvesting:

Harvest the fruit while they are young and immature usually about 6″ long while and glossy. Harvest with a knife or pruning shears. Do not pull the fruit off as damage may occur to the plant. Some varieties have sharp thorns on the stem and calyx, so exercise caution and wear gloves when harvesting. If the fruit become dull or brown they are over mature. Over ripe fruit should be discarded or placed in the compost pile. Eggplants bruise easily so harvest carefully.

Storage:

Eggplant does not store well and should be eaten fresh soon after harvest.

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