If you’re a real gardener, you keep trying. I see lots of successful gardens around here that have the same things they always have, corn and cabbage and tomatoes and beans. Except for the tomatoes I find it easier and cheaper to buy such things in the grocery. But I like trying new things, Asian veggies and tropicals and stuff that seldom has a chance here. Usually I fail, and just because a store like Walmart sells live plants in a nursery department does not mean it will prosper in your garden.
Eggplant is one of those things. I would suppose that some people in this area might have good luck with eggplant, but it might be more situation and good fortune than skill that causes this. Eggplant needs a long hot season, fertile soil and abundant water. I’m short of all those things, and usually when I try eggplant the plants struggle and get blasted by shotgun beetles and at best produce a few scrawny deformed fruits before they expire at summer’s end.
This year I went to extreme measures to grow eggplant and for the first time ever I got a good crop. So, let me tell you what I did, to grow Asian eggplant in a northern American garden.
I tried three varieties, one of which was a Japanese eggplant I bought as a six inch tall transplant at Walmart. Quality of that one, even though it produced, I thought was marginal. I transplanted it directly to the garden after the soil warmed, kept it watered and fertilized it every couple of weeks with Miraclegro, one tbsp per two gallons of water. I had the eggplant planted closely with several peppers and used that amount of fertilizer to water a square yard area with all five plants in it. Worked pretty well, I got eggplants and chilis and a few bell peppers from that little plot. Tenting it over with plastic at the end of the summer got it past a few frosts and kept the crop going. How many eggplants? A half dozen, not worth the trouble. Got enough chilis to make five pints of pickled peppers, and again it wasn’t worth the trouble because chili sauce is cheap. But! I learned things.
The other two varieties of eggplant came from Evergreen Asian Vegetable Seeds, a company I’ve bought seed from for years. Lots of good varieties but not all will thrive in my garden. The white eggplant seeds never even sprouted (probably due to climate here), but the Ping Tung purple eggplants all came up when I started them indoors, and when I transplanted them to pots and set them out in a sunny spot on the porch in early spring they continued to do well.
In the heat of the summer the plants had grown to about two feet in height and were having problems with overheating and water loss. The more you water, the more nutrients you wash out of the soil in the pot, so I thought the plants would do better in the garden, still in the pots. Even in the garden I kept juicing them up with Miraclegro every week or two. Some, I set on the garden soil and protected with mulch to keep the roots cooler. Others, I dug pits for, and set the pots in the pits and banked soil around them. Either system seemed to work fine. Eggplants need warm fertile soil, plus water. Too cold, they won’t grow; too hot, they dry out and die.
In late summer they bloomed! At first I had just a few, then in early fall the plants were four feet high with branches and were blooming like crazy. Fruits were setting everywhere on them. It was eggplant bounty! Well, almost. This is about the time when the temps fall and the warm weather things like eggplants go bust.
The plants were doing so well that I used the frame of a screenhouse tent to set up a temporary greenhouse in the southern exposure back yard where I have all my vines. All the eggplants were still in pots, some buried and some not, so it was fairly easy to move them. They loved the greenhouse! and kept setting fruit even though the bugs and bees were mostly outside by then. Peppers and tomatoes and eggplants will all pollinate even without bees to work the flowers. Just bump them a little when you give them some water.
Serious cold did kill them off, but it had to get down to twenty two to really do damage. The fruits store well in the fridge and I ate the last of them in the middle of December. I harvested several dozen, which is way more eggplant than I usually eat in a year. Pretty good : ).
A note on harvesting: don’t wait too long. Immature fruits taste much better than older fruits. If you slice an eggplant open and find brown seeds, the fruit stayed too long on the vine. Yeah, just try and find one in the grocery that isn’t old and bitter, this is what we get from the stores.