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Backyard Gardener: Eggplant extravaganza for different kinds of gardens | News, Sports, Jobs


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Hello Mid-Ohio Valley Farmers and Gardeners! What a glorious beginning we are experiencing with the second week of May.

“The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”-Edwin Way Teale.


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I hope everyone enjoyed Mother’s Day. A big THANK YOU to all Moms for everything you do. The growing season is now in full swing as we start planting all those heat loving summer vegetables we all enjoy. This includes tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, cucumbers, and other favorites.

Speaking of vegetables, we will have veggies, flowers, books, tools and gardening supplies at the Wood County Master Gardeners Spring Seminar this Saturday, May 14, at Bicentennial Park in downtown Parkersburg.

This week I want to talk about eggplant. Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. It grows wild in India and South Asia and has been cultivated for over 1,500 years.

Eggplant is very popular in India and Asia, but not so much here in the US Eggplant is actually a berry, so maybe more people will find that appetizing. I personally love the smoky flavor of baba ghanoush more than traditional hummus.

Most people would describe eggplant as the dark purple to black fruits we see at the grocery store. Actually, the first eggplant introduced to the United States produced white fruit, imported from Europe by Thomas Jefferson (I believe Tom Jefferson was a Master Gardener.)

Eggplant can be used in numerous recipes. Eggplant parmesan is a traditional Italian dish cooked with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. Baba ghanoush is a traditional Lebanese dish with ground up roasted eggplant with garlic, tahini and lemon juice, similar to humus.

A couple cooking tips. Eggplant oxidizes and turns brown when exposed to air fairly quickly, unless you add a little lemon juice. Salting eggplant does draw moisture out before the cooking process but does not really reduce any bitterness.

Eggplants are a tropical perennial grown as an annual that produces a bushy, vigorous plant with large leaves, woody stems and attractive flowers. Bees are attracted to the flowers and may improve both pollination and yield. Many eggplant varieties may reach heights of nearly 5 feet.

Eggplants have a deep taproot to assist in dry weather conditions. Plants are self-pollinated with the flowers staying open for two to three days. The surface of eggplant fruit is smooth and glossy but varieties differ in size and shape including round to bell-shaped, oval and elongated. Fruit colors may include yellow, green, white, purple, black, violet or a combination.

Eggplant should be transplanted when soils are 60 degrees or after all frost danger has passed since the plants are very sensitive to cool temperatures. Transplants should be planted 24 inches apart in rows at least three feet apart, similar to tomatoes.

Eggplant prefers fertile, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter for best growth and yield. However, it tolerates a wide range of soil types. It prefers a pH of 6-7 and has moderate moisture needs.

They thrive in warm, dry weather but are more sensitive to low temperature injury than tomatoes and peppers. I recommend purchasing transplants, but if you cannot find a specific variety you can start seeds at home indoors about six to eight weeks before planting.

Eggplant are very versatile and can be planted in traditional gardens, raised beds or containers. It would be wise to use a stake or cages to support plants before the fruit begins to ripen, similar to tomatoes. Staking makes harvesting much easier and keeps the fruit from touching the ground, reducing disease and improves fruit shape.

When discussing varieties, there are several good ones to choose from in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. There are three general types of eggplant. These include the large oval-fruited eggplant with purple skin; the oriental or Asian elongated type with purple skin; and the novelty types with fruit of various sizes, shapes, and colors, including white, lavender, green, yellow, orange, and red.

Black Beauty (oval, 6 -7 inches long), Black Bell (oval to round, 6 inches long) and Classic (Elongated) recommended traditional black/purple varieties. Some of the white varieties include Caspar (cylindrical, 6 inches long), Cloud Nine (oval, 6 inches long) Ghostbuster (oval, 6 inches long), and Clara (oval shaped 5-6 inches long).

Some Asian type of eggplant I recommend are Ichiban (narrow, 12 inches long, dark purple), Millionaire (slender, 10 inches long, purple black) and Orient Charm (8-10″ long by with attractive shades of fluorescent pink, pastel pink , and white).

Many pests can attack eggplants, including the cucumber beetle, Colorado potato beetle and flea beetle. Most significant damage on yield and quality of eggplant occurs from early-season damage. Scout plants early in the season for insect damage.

Flea beetles chew small holes in the leaves of eggplants but do not feed on the fruit. Cucumber beetles and Colorado potato beetles chew the leaves and can also damage the fruit.

Row covers can be used to prevent these insects from feeding on the plants. Remember, good pest management strategies include planting resistant varieties, rotating crops, using proper watering techniques (water at the root level), proper plant spacing, and practicing good sanitation (disposing of diseased plants).

Any product containing the active ingredient spinosad (Captain Jack’s Deadbud Brew, Colorado Potato Bug Beater) may aid in chewing insect control. Please follow label directions on any pesticide.

The first harvest of eggplants will start approximately 65 to 90 days from transplanting, depending on the variety and weather. Clip fruit from the plant rather than pulling, leaving about 1 inch of stem.

Eggplants should be harvested when the fruit surface is glossy and tender and before seeds within the fruit become brown. Overmature fruit will become bitter.

Contact me at the Wood County WVU Extension Office 304-424-1960 or e-mail me at jj.barrett@mail.wvu.edu with questions. Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

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