Eggplants, also known as aubergines, have many varieties to choose from. They differ mainly in size, shape, and color of the fruit — from the traditional royal purple to varying shades of rose, violet, green, yellow, and white. Eggplants require warm temperatures, so it is best to start plants inside and transplant them once the soil has warmed and cool spring temperatures have passed.
Start eggplants from seed indoors anywhere from two to three months before the last frost date of the season. Plant seeds approximately one-quarter of an inch under the soil. Seedlings need to be kept at around 80°F or there will be poor germination.
How to Plant
Transplant seedlings to the garden or outdoor containers once nighttime temperatures remain in the mid to upper forties, usually about two to three weeks after the last frost. Place seedling 24 to 30 inches apart, with two to three feet between rows, in soil prepared with compost and fertilizer in a well-drained area.
When transplanting seedlings, stake or cage the plant to provide support. Some varieties of eggplant can have large fruits weighing up to one pound each.
Caring for Plants
Eggplants are heavy feeders and can benefit from fertilizer. The plants need a lot of nutrients to ensure good fruit production. Apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season. Once fruits start to form on the plant, water the plants every other day. Increase watering during any dry spells.
Pinch off some blossoms during the growing season to allow the plant to focus energy on ripening existing fruit rather than producing new ones. For bigger fruits, restrict to five or six per plant.
Harvest guidelines differ depending on the variety of eggplant grown. A good rule of thumb is to pick the fruit after they have turned the deep purple color, while the skins are glossy, and the fruit feels firm. If the eggplant’s skin becomes dull, the fruit will be seedy and there is a potential for bitterness. Harvesting fruits regularly will keep the plants producing.
Cut the fruit close to the stem, leaving about one inch of the stem attached. Wear gloves when harvesting as some varieties of eggplants have sharp spines where the fruit is attached to the stem. Twist the eggplant off the bush, or use a knife to cut it off.
Eggplants typically yield between three and five pounds of fruit from each plant; two or three plants should be sufficient for the average family. Eggplants can be stored in humid conditions above 50°F for up to two weeks.