Eggplant hails from areas of India and Southeast Asia is not only pretty; it’s are also pretty good for you. Said to have a role in lowering cholesterol, eggplant is a great source of both folic acid and potassium, and it’s time to pop them into your patch now.
Now, here’s a bit of info you can use at your next trivia night: eggplant and tomatoes are cousins. Position-wise, though, eggplant are different from tomatoes in that they like it warmer; a fair bit warmer. Eggplants can’t handle frosts at all, and they hate long periods of cool weather. Stick a few in a sunny spot in the garden and leave about 50cm between them, as they can get pretty big. They’ll thank you for it!
Due to the family ties between eggplant and tomato (and potato, capsicum and chilli), we need to remember the following two things: they love what tomatoes love and they can’t be planted where tomatoes (or their other relations) have been for at least two years. So, just like tomatoes, eggplants thrive in a fertile soil rich with compost and pelletised manure and topped with a layer of straw. Eggplants will do even better if the bed is prepared for them a month before planting out, so whack it all in and count the days. The tip here is to ensure the soil drains freely and isn’t too heavy (meaning really dense or clay). Also ensure that the mulch is not pushed right up to the stem as this can lead to collar rot and all sorts of nasties.
Feeding your eggplants with poultry manure based granules just as the flower buds appear will do “eggsalent” things for the yield from your plants. If you feel the need to feed and you missed the bud stage, make a tea by soaking manure pellets in water and giving it to your eggplants to drink. Other than that, the rich soil in the bed you have prepared should provide a good dose of nutrients to these tasty tackers
What about water?
Eggplants, like most plants in the vegie patch, don’t like to dry out, so keep a close eye on the soil moisture. Left to dry out, eggplants can produce misshapen fruit that tastes bitter. Once again, a nice mulch layer will assist with water retention.
Are we there yet?
Eggplant can take varying lengths of time to mature but, depending on variety, 10–14 weeks is the norm. These guys are ready to roll when they are big enough to use, are firm and their skin is glossy. Don’t leave them on the plants too long as they can over-ripen and go wrinkly, which makes them not so tasty and can lead to pest and disease issues.
Stake a claim:
Like their cousins, eggplants need to stake their claim and must be well supported in order to be productive and upstanding. Staking eggplants, especially the larger-fruiting varieties, prevents them becoming so top-heavy with fruit that they’re unable to support themselves. Nice, solid tomato stakes, driven into the ground about 10cm from the stem of the plant, should do it. Join the stake and the stem together with an old stocking (don’t tie it too tight) and you’ll find this is the beginning of a fruitful and supportive relationship.
When it comes to eggplants, there are some really out-there-looking varieties and cultivars available. Eggplants come in purple, pink, white, striped, green, lavender and intriguing combinations of the above. So head to your local garden centre to see what’s available. Why not try some other varieties as well, such as Lebanese eggplants (the long, skinny ones)? These are dead easy to grow and go really well in pots or containers.
Warm areas: September onwards
Temperate areas: Late September to October and onwards (after frost risk has passed)
Cool to cold areas: October onwards