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.
The Ma Zu Purple eggplant grows very long, at 14 inches (35.6 cm) the fruit is not seedy at all so it can likely grow much longer while still being tender and sweet. The plant itself is very short probably because it is on the outside edge of the garden, all the ones on the outside edge are stunted.
This Thai Long Purple plant has 7 fruits forming on its branches. You can see the Ma Zu Purple plant at the bottom right of the picture with it's purple stems and veins, it is less than half the size of the Thai Long Purple plant.
The Cambodian Green Giant plant is just starting to set fruit. This variety is supposed to have truly massive eggplants.
The leaves from the Cambodian Green Giant are huge compared to the Bangladeshi Long leaves to the right.
Many of the eggplant plants are just starting to set fruit like this Malaysian Dark Red with its 8 little dangling eggplants.
It looks like a bunny rabbit has eaten another Thai Long Green eggplant. The brown rabbit seems to only like green vegetables like green beans, green tomatoes, and green kohlrabi.


Caro said...

What beautiful, architectural plants these are! I have never tried to grow them here, I'd probably need a polytunnel for that, so I'm slightly in awe of your gorgeous plants! Hope they ripen up nicely for you!

Phuong said...

Thank you! It's fun seeing the bushy plants with their colorful fruits. The branches are surprisingly strong, and don't seem to need any kind of supports to hold up their eggplants/aubergine.