Eggplant is a tasty member of the nightshade family.
Cousin to tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and tobacco, eggplant (Solanum melongena) grown in tropical areas is a perennial. Here in San Jose, California, it tends to be a large annual. Your eggplant bush can grow to be 5 feet tall, but most are closer to 2 feet tall.
Botanically, an eggplant is a berry. This is because it is a fleshy fruit, without a stone, that grows from a single ovary. Within that fleshy fruit are many tiny black seeds. These seeds taste bitter because they contain nicotine alkaloids. Don’t worry, though. You would have to eat 20 to 40 pounds of eggplant to get the equivalent nicotine found in one cigarette.
How to grow eggplant
People have been growing eggplant since prehistoric times. It’s that easy. Originally from Asia, eggplant needs heat. Seeds can be started indoors a month before your last frost date. The seeds are small, so do not plant more than 1/4 inch deep. With plenty of heat and moisture, your seeds may germinate in as little as 7 days. Be sure to harden off your plants before installing them outside. They will need a spot with plenty of sun and good drainage. Eggplant prefers slightly acidic soil (pH 5.5 to 7.0), so acidification may be necessary here in the Bay Area. Plants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart. They will need a lot of water and regular feeding. Reduce competition with weeds by mulching around plants. Eggplants are available in several different sizes, colors, shapes, and patterns, plus there are early maturing varieties. Give ‘em all a try!
Eggplant pests and diseases
Aphids, armyworms, thrips, cabbage loopers, flea beetles, nematodes, lygus bugs, and spider mites will all want to feed on your eggplant plants. Damping off, mosaic, root rot, tomato spotted wilt, foamy canker, and verticillium wilt are common eggplant diseases. Eggplants are also susceptible to a condition called ‘shoe stringing’. Shoe stringing describes the way leaves become thin and leathery, with a chewed up appearance. The cause is unknown at this time.
Your eggplants are ready to harvest when the flesh does not spring back when pressed. Do not pull or twist fruit to remove it - this can damage plants. Instead, snip the stem just above the fruit. Eggplants have the best flavor when they are eaten within 24 hours of being picked. And they are best left on the kitchen counter and not in the refrigerator.
According to 13th century Italian folklore, eating an eggplant can make you go crazy. That claim was repeated in 19th century Egypt, when it was said that insanity was "more common and more violent" when the eggplant is in season in the summer. (Wikipedia)
There are many theories about the insanity claim. Personally, I think it may have something to do with the abundance of food your eggplant plants can produce.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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