South Texas Gardening with Bob Webster

Eggplant



eggplantEggplant is so called because the first varieties known to English-speaking people bore colorful egg shaped fruits. The eggplant, aubergine, melongene or brinjal (Solanum melongena) is a plant of the family Solanaceae (also known as the nightshades) and genus Solanum. It bears a fruit of the same name, commonly used as a vegetable in cooking. As a nightshade, it is closely related to the tomato and potato and is native to Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
It is a delicate perennial often cultivated as an annual. It grows 16 to 60 inches tall, with large coarsely lobed leaves that are 4 to 8 inches long and 2 to 4 inches wide. Semi-wild types can grow much larger, up to 7 feet with large leaves over 12 inches long and 6 inches wide. The stem is often spiny. The flowers are white to purple, with a five-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. The fruit is fleshy, has a meaty texture, less than 2 inches in diameter on wild plants, but much larger in cultivated forms.
In tropical and subtropical climates, eggplant can be sown directly into the garden. Eggplant grown in temperate climates fares better when transplanted into the garden after all danger of frost is passed. Seeds are typically started eight to ten weeks prior to the anticipated frost-free date. Spacing should be 18 inches to 24 inches between plants, depending on cultivar, and 24 to 36 inches between rows, depending on the type of cultivation equipment being used. Mulching will help conserve moisture and prevent weeds and fungal diseases. The flowers are relatively unattractive to bees and the first blossoms often do not set fruit.

Varieties:

Large Oval Fruit

Dusky (60 days to harvest, good size, early production)

Epic (64 days, tear-drop shaped)

Black Bell (68 days, round to oval, productive)

Black Magic (72 days)

Classic (76 days, elongated oval, high quality)

Black Beauty (OP-80 days)

Burpee Hybrid (80 days)

Ghostbuster (80 days; white, slightly sweeter than purple types; 6 to 7 inch oval).

Elongated Fruit

Ichiban (70 days)

Slim Jim (OP-70 days; lavender, turning purple when peanut-sized; good in pots)

Little Fingers (OP-68 days; 6 to 8 inch, long, slim fruit in clusters).

Ornamental Fruit

Easter Egg (52 days; small white, egg-sized, shaped, turning yellow at maturity; edible ornamental)

When to Plant:

Eggplant is best started from transplants. Select plants in cell packs or individual containers. It is important to get the plants off to a proper start. Do not plant too early. Transplant after the soil has warmed and the danger of frost has passed. Eggplants are more susceptible than tomato plants to injury from low temperatures and do not grow until temperatures warm.
Spacing & Depth

Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart in the row, or even closer for small fruited types. Three to six plants are usually sufficient for most families unless eggplant is a favorite vegetable, eaten often. Allow 30 to 36 inches between rows or space plants 24 inches apart in all directions in raised beds.

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