I was warned by my friend (and garden coordinator) that in her experiences eggplant does not do well in the garden, but I couldn’t help myself. The few times that I have eaten eggplant it has been absolutely amazing! I have been dreaming of the flavor-bursting eggplant pizzas I ate during my 6 months in Italy. My mouth waters just thinking of the breaded eggplant sandwiches I get from a local eatery. It was about time for me to do my own culinary eggplant experiments, but first I wanted to learn the art of growing them.
Things started out well for our little plants when I sewed the seeds indoors in March. I planted four of the 36 cell tray with two seeds each, and watched as they developed along with my peppers and tomatoes. Even though the tomatoes began to overshadow them a little, they were healthy and strong plants. I hardened them off at the end of April by setting them outside for a few hours a day to begin with and then left them out for longer and longer (for about 2 weeks) until I finally moved them to the garden and transplanted them into our plot. They were put into the smallest bed on the edge of our garden that would be perfect for four eggplants and a few nasturtiums (I was excited to have flowers as wells as vegetables in my garden for beauty as well as for the benefits of companion planting).
I watched and waited as they struggled to grow. While hardening them off helped them survive, the transition to the outdoors was still a harsh one, and soon after they were planted the beetles arrived. Tiny, annoying black flea beetles that ate their way through the small developing leaves. I wasn’t sure how to fight them off. Reading online a bit I found that some people would hose off the leaves with water or spray them down with a soapy water mixture. I was nervous about doing anything too harsh, so I would douse the leaves with water everyday when I visited the garden. The plants just never looked like they were going to recover. I caved in and purchased a set of four large eggplants from a local nursery – the only plants in my garden that I didn’t grow from seeds.
They too were getting eaten (as you can see above), but the damage was just cosmetic and they began to bloom these beautiful purple blossoms. The nasturtiums were in bloom as well attracting even more pollinators to help the eggplants forward in their quest of producing fruit. Our first plum-colored bulb began to grow not long after, and we watched as it stretched and grew. It made me so happy to see it there everyday. A deep purple ray of sunshine giving me a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Andrew and I weren’t sure when it was ready to pick, but after reading online that it would have a better taste if you pick it when it is smaller (rather than the overly-large ones at the grocery store) and that also gives the plant more room to grow and produce more fruit. You can also tell by its shine or sheen. If light shines off of the shell it is ready to pick, but if it is dull molted, then you should leave in on the vine until it becomes shiny. We harvested ours when it was a little bigger than the photo above. It was still petty small, but we were eager to cook it up. Plus I thought it would be better to pick it when it was small and let the plant produce more, rather than letting it get too big. It was slightly underripe near the stem, but close to perfect towards the end. It made a lasting impression on my Zucchini Eggplant Pizza (recipe coming soon).
The future is looking very bright for our eggplants. Not only do we have nine small eggplants hanging off of our four large plants (pictured below), but three of the four plants I started from seed are making a come back!! One has even started to produce those beautiful purple flowers. I think that the beetles went strait for the larger ones when they were planted, which gave the weak eggplants time to recover. We hope to see a some lovely purple plants growing from them soon.