July 24, 2013
Growing Eggplants or Aubergines in the Vegetable Garden
I try to start eggplants at least 8 weeks before the predicted last frost free date, this year it was more like 6 weeks. Eggplants need consistent warmth in the 70's to 80's to germinate, personally I keep the seed starter tray on top of the fridge. After the seeds germinate each seedling is transplanted to individual containers like a plastic or styrofoam cup that gets reused year after year, the plants are then kept under 24 hours a day light till it is warm enough to plant outside. When daytime temperatures finally reach 70 degrees and nighttime temperatures are above 50˚ F eggplants can be planted outside.
I have been growing eggplant in the garden for a few of years now, and they have always been a challenge. Most years the plants seem slow growing in the beginning due to early flea beetle damage, and once the hot temperatures hit in the height of summer they stop producing fruit till it starts cooling down again.
This year looks like it is going to be a banner year for eggplants. The plants are sizing up quickly and the leaves are huge in comparison to the short stature of the plants. Eggplants are sensitive to the cold which can stunt them, but they also need to get in the ground early so they produce fruits before it gets too hot and the pollen becomes sterilized from the heat. So, I try to put eggplants out a week or two later than the tomato plants. Then whenever the temperatures are going to dip down below 50˚ F at night (10˚ C), I go ahead and cover them with a vented clear plastic cup in the afternoon so some heat gets trapped in there to keep them a bit warmer at night. Soil mounded on the bottom of the cups will hold them in place in case of wind.
This year when the plants got too big for cups they got covered with the Agribon floating row covers or agricultural blankets, it can get quite warm under there during the day. I keep the floating row covers on for a few weeks till the volatile temperatures of spring settles down and it warms up consistently. The row covers also excludes flea beetles and other pests from the eggplants, without the early seedling damage the plants are showing exuberant lush growth. Then as the plants grow, whenever there are signs of aphids and flea beetle damage, I go ahead and dust with diatomaceous earth which is an inert powder and organic way to manage insects. Once the plants get larger, they should be able to withstand flea beetle attacks.