Colorful, edible – eggplants
By Ralph E. Mitchell
For a vegetable that was domesticated over four-thousand years ago, the eggplant has come a long way! Although not a vegetable that everyone likes, this meaty fruit is a delicious and productive “vegetable” that should be a staple in your vegetable garden.
Thomas Jefferson was the first to grow and promote eggplants in the United States. Since that 1806 introduction, eggplants – in the same family as peppers and tomatoes – have become a mainstay in the diet and in our gardens. There are many varieties including American, Sicilian, White-skinned, Green-skinned, Italian, Japanese, Thai, and Spanish-types, just to name a few. Everyone has their favorite, but I like to mix it up a bit and try a different one each year. This year I grew ‘Antiqua’ – a white and purple stripped variety around eight inches long. I had plants in the ground by late February with the first fruit starting seventy to eighty days later. The production has continued right up through early mid-July. This variety produced well and had sweet, non-bitter flesh. August is the next chance to put in a new crop.
While variety is best left up to the individual, you can start eggplants from seed or obtain ready-to-plant transplants at local garden centers. Select a full sun location with well-drained soil enriched with organic matter. Apply a vegetable granular fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 or its equivalent as per label instructions which will be around three pounds per one-hundred square feet. Make a side-dressing with one pound of the same fertilizer per one-hundred square feet in three to four weeks to support strong growth. Eggplants can become big, so spacing within the row should minimally be from eighteen to twenty-four inches between plants. Rows should be spaced around three feet apart for best results. Eggplants also adapt well to growing in containers, so consider this option if you have a small space issue. Pick eggplants while the fruit has a shine to it. Dull fruits are often too mature and full of hard seeds resulting in poor table quality.
Eggplant varieties as mentioned vary greatly, but here are some suggestions including many heirloom varieties. An old favorite type of deep purple/black eggplant called ‘Black Beauty’ is vigorous and highly productive with fruits up to three pounds. Try another heirloom type such as ‘Ping Tung Long’, noted for its high production of deep lavender-skinned, eleven-inch long, two-inch wide fruits. I grew ‘Ping Tung Long’ several years ago with great success. Another popular heirloom is ‘Rosa Bianca’ noted for its round to oval, pleated meaty fruit with white and pink-purple streaks of color. Explore something really different and go with a green variety such a ‘Louisiana Long Green’ which produces ten-inch long, light green, mild-flavored fruits. For a white-skinned specialty cultivar, try ‘Ghostbuster’ which produces six to seven-inch oval white fruits. The fruit is noted as sweeter than purple varieties. The list goes on – there are even eggplants that produce red to orange-colored fruits for the hobbyist and diehard eggplant gardener.
The major pests that I have encountered include flea beetles and whiteflies. Monitor and control while populations are small where spot-treating will do the job. Find the eggplant that you like – there is one or more for everybody – and enjoy the color and flavor in your own garden! For more information on growing all types of vegetable in our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ozores-Hampton, M. (2017) Heirloom Eggplant Varieties in Florida. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Ozores-Hampton, M. (2017) Conventional and Specialty Eggplant Varieties in Florida. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Relf, D., McDaniel, A. (2018) Potatoes, Peppers and Eggplant. Virginia Cooperative Extension
Park Brown, S., Treadwell, D., Stephens, J. M. & Webb, S. (2018) Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions – Eggplant. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.