Where eggplants thrive
Eggplants like as much sun and heat as they can get and benefit from wind protection. They are sensitive to cool temperatures and shouldn't be outdoors when night temperatures fall below 12°C: cool temperatures will weaken and stunt plants, and they may not recover. Growing them along a brick wall, which provides reflected warmth and protection from cool air, is ideal. If the garden location is more exposed, consider providing a temporary stake-and-burlap wind barrier or baffle screen. Eggplants dislike heavy clay, preferring sandy loam amended with organic materials such as peat moss, compost and composted manure.
Like their tomato cousins, eggplants are thirsty plants and heavy feeders, requiring consistent moisture and regular fertilizing. Surround each plant with a four-centimetre-thick mulch to help conserve moisture in its root zone. Pull back the mulch and spread a handful of granular 5-10-10 fertilizer around each plant every third week, but don't dig it in, as the roots are shallow. Feed container-grown eggplants with a water-soluble 5-10-10 fertilizer every second week; plants may need staking to carry the weight of their berries.
- Eggplants are sensitive to soil-borne fungal diseases such as verticillium, fusarium fungus (primarily a problem in warm climates) and tobacco mosaic virus. Select hybrid seed with inbred resistance to verticillium wilt, which infects the capillary system. Rotate eggplant location in the garden each year, or grow in containers with soilless mix to completely eliminate disease risk. (Tobacco smokers can spread mosaic virus on their hands and should wear gloves when touching eggplants.)
- Start seeds eight weeks prior to planting out; they are slow to germinate. Plant several seeds in a 7.5-centimetre pot, one centimetre deep, and keep them warm by setting them near a heat register or on top of a refrigerator until germination occurs. Remove all but the strongest seedling.
- Young plants need warmth to grow. Try to maintain a temperature between 24 and 27°C, placing seedlings in a warm location with bright light. If seedlings are under grow lights, hang a sheet of plastic film over the unit. A week before planting outside, move the plants to a cool windowsill and cut back their water by one-quarter.
- Transplant outdoors to a sunny and wind-protected location in mid-June, when weather is consistently mild and warm.
- Harvest fruit when slightly immature, with smooth, glossy, firm flesh. Use pruners to cut fruit from the woody stems (wear gloves to avoid the sharp prickles on the berry calyx). Continually harvest fruit to encourage more flower production.