Eggplants have diverse origins - Italy, Africa, Thailand, China and India - and their looks are just as varied, so they add visual dazzle to the vegie patch as well as lusciously rich flavours to dinner.
Linda Ross shares her tips.
It's a puzzle that so many fruit in the deadly nightshade (Solanacea) family are so delicious, even though every part of the plant except the fruit is poisonous! Eggplant (or Aubergine) grows slowly throughout summer only to deliver basket loads of shiny skinned purple fruits in autumn. The harvest is impressive, so you'll need a good collection of recipes! My favourite eggplant dishes are caponata, baba ghanoush, barbecued eggplant 'steaks', stuffed eggplant, and stir-fried eggplant.
There are many eggplant colours; our favourite being the purple streaked 'Listada di Gandia'. Photo - Gettyimages.com
Eggplant grows to a one metre round bush, so allow plenty of space. As some individual plants will produce up to 15kg of fruit it is important to support the branches so they don’t break under their heavy load.
Eggplants enjoy well composted and manured soil so we add potash, dolomite, blood and bone and Dynamic Lifter to the soil two weeks before planting. We also use a soil wetter on the surrounding soil to help allow water to penetrate. Plant seedlings in August-September, after the last frost, at least 40-50cm apart to ensure plants don’t crowd each other. Create a dinner plate-sized depression around each seedling to direct water into the root ball.
We use a bamboo box (or cage) to support the heavy branches as they grow. A 1m x 1m x 1m box with four corner posts can support four plants. As the stems grow they drape over the horizontal parts of the box. No pruning is necessary. Fortnightly applications of seaweed through the growing period should be switched to fortnightly applications of liquid feed for fruit (such as Thrive, Uplift, Harvest, Powerfeed) once the plants start to flower.
The first fruit is picked between three and four months after planting, depending on the variety. Pick eggplants when they are young, bright and shiny. Dull-skinned fruits will have begun to form mature seeds, and will have tough skin and bitter flesh. The best time to harvest in the morning or evening. Fruit can be picked off the stalk by hand or with a small sharp knife or secateurs.
- Wilting leaves are a sign of bacterial wilt, which can arrive with the onslaught of high summer temperatures. Remove affected plants.
- The 28 spotted ladybeetle, recognisable by its orange colour and many spots, can skeletonise the leaves overnight. Handpick as soon as you see the first one to stop a plague developing.
- Flea beetles be controlled with Neem Oil or Natrasoap
- Marigolds, calendula and dill are companions that deter pests.
Long Purple and Black Beauty are large and rounded.
Lebanese is thinner but more profuse, sometimes producing more than 50 fruit per bush.
Listada di Gandia is streaked purple and white.
Thai eggplant come in clusters of grape sized fruit.
Casper has eggshell coloured skin.
Rosa Bianca is round with violet-blushed colour.
Text: Linda Ross