Growing eggplants (Solanum melongena) at home can seem intimidating, but with the right knowledge, anyone can become a successful grower. Eggplant (also known as aubergine or brinjal) is a versatile plant that can be grown in beds, pots, greenhouses, and even indoors. With proper care, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of fresh eggplants. The following is how to grow eggplant at home.
First off, let’s get acquainted with the basics of eggplant. You’ve probably eaten it before in some dish and that is because eggplant is a spongy, soft fruit that readily absorbs the gravy and aroma of sauces into its flesh, becoming a versatile vegetable dish and the favorite of many a cook. Eggplant hails from tropical South Asia, and has a long history of cultivation. Although related to chilies and peppers, cooked eggplant has a pretty benign yet complex taste and texture, which adds to its appeal.
Growing eggplants at home may seem complicated, but it is one of the easiest plants to grow. Start by choosing the appropriate variety for your region. Different cultivars have unique characteristics, such as resistance to cold, fruit shape, color, etc. The majority of cultivars have purple skin, and either roundish or elongated form, but there are also white, yellow, and green cultivars of eggplant.
Can eggplant be grown in temperate regions? Yes, provided the temperatures don’t go too low. In the US, eggplant grows well in the warmer southern states, but even in more temperate zones, it can still grow in the outdoor garden once all danger of frost is gone (eggplants are very sensitive to frost).
Preparing the soil or substrate
The substrate is essential to provide nutrients and ensure good plant development. Opt for fertile organic soil, rich in organic matter, well-drained, and with adequate pH.
When preparing the soil, add organic matter such as worm cast or composted manure to enrich the soil with nutrients; it will also improve the soil structure by promoting good drainage and moisture retention.
Choosing the right place for planting
Proper placing includes adequate sun exposure, shelter from strong winds, and enough space for plant spacing and growth. Eggplant is a hardy plant and can be grown in numerous environments, including open beds, glass greenhouses, artificial indoor environments, and even in vases near the window.
Improving soil drainage
These plants do not tolerate water logging as they are susceptible to diseases when the soil remains wet. To improve soil drainage, add coarse sand or perlite to increase porosity and ensure adequate water flow.
How to Grow Eggplant
Eggplant is usually grown from seedlings/transplants. When obtaining eggplant seedlings, it’s a good idea to visually check the plant first. Look for seedlings with stout stems and lush green leaves. Avoid those with signs of disease or pests. If you prefer, you can also start eggplants from seed, buying the variety that interests you most and following the planting instructions on the package.
When starting from seed indoors, plant them in about 0.25 inches in a soilless potting mix, and provide them with adequate light and warmth. You can move them outdoors when they are at least 5 inches tall and the weather is sufficiently warm.
The ideal time for planting
Eggplants prefer temperatures above 22°C (72°F) for perfect development. Night time lows should not drop below 10°C (50°F). When growing outdoors, start planting in late spring at the earliest. If you live in a cold climate, consider starting or growing indoors in greenhouses or starting your production with cold-resistant plants.
Proper plant spacing will ensure the plants develop and fruit properly. Respect the spacing between the plants. Spacing is crucial to ensure each plant receives adequate light and air circulation, reducing the risk of disease, and is usually 50 to 60 cm (20-24 inches) between individual plants, while 60 to 90 cm (24-35 inches) between each row.
Let’s talk a little about the care during plant development. Correct irrigation of eggplant plants is important. Keep the soil slightly moist, avoiding waterlogging and drying out. Water the plants regularly, providing water directly at the base of the plants, avoiding wetting the leaves. A suggested watering frequency is once a week, and once every 4-5 days during dry weather. If you can drip irrigate, then do so, as this method ensures consistent moisture.
Use natural fertilizers like organic compost, well-composted manure, or specific organic fertilizers for vegetables. These will help nourish the plants naturally, improving their health and resistance to pests and diseases. Feed the eggplants with 10-20-10 fertilizer every 3 or 4 weeks.
Pest and disease control
Use preventive methods such as crop rotation, planting repellent species, and insect traps. In case of infestations or diseases, resort to organic solutions, such as neem extract or pepper. Eggplant can suffer from the same pests that target its relatives from the Solanaceae family, like potatoes and tomatoes, and should be planted with other companion plants that can divert the attention of those pests. Those pests include whiteflies, aphids, hornworms, and the Colorado potato beetle.
Some diseases that affect eggplants can also remain in the soil from one growing cycle to the next. Crop rotation every 3-4 years helps break this cycle.
Eggplant harvest and storage
Eggplants take on average 65-85 days to mature. You can harvest them when the fruits reach their proper size and color for the cultivated variety. Ensure the fruit is shiny and firm to the touch. Use sharp scissors to cut the stem, leaving a small piece attached to the fruit. You can store the eggplants in a cool, airy place, such as the refrigerator, for up to a week.
Growing eggplants organically at home is a rewarding activity. With proper care, you can enjoy healthy, nutritious crops of eggplant. Remember to prepare the soil correctly, select healthy seedlings, provide adequate irrigation, fertilize organically, and organically control pests and diseases. When harvesting eggplants, watch for signs of ripeness and store them properly to extend their shelf life.
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