With a soft texture and mild flavor eggplant can serve as an easy-to-grow filler or delicious stand-alone vegetable. Eggplant, or aubergine, comes in a variety of colors, shapes, and flavors. From lean and green to round and black, striped, and even white. By growing them at home you can try varieties far exceeding supermarket eggplant in both flavor and interest.
To begin, select varieties that grow well in your area. Typically, the thin longer varieties, such as the Thai Green, do well in hot climates while the round varieties prefer more temperate weather. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. offers a nice selection of varieties from around the world.
Start your seeds indoors at least 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area, 3 to 4 seeds per cell or container. Once the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves (not the plain leaves that first emerge from the seed) thin the plants to two per cell. Meanwhile, prepare your containers or garden beds with well-draining soil with lots of organic matter. Eggplant do not like to be low or submerged, so pots and 12-inch mounds of soil with heavy mulching are ideal for planting.
When your seedlings and climate are ready for transplanting, dig a hole in your mound or pot deep enough to bury about half of the stem to encourage deeper rooting and a stronger stalk. Water generously the first day and regularly thereafter. Eggplant are extremely water hungry especially when fruiting, so monitor the soil moisture levels regularly.
Like tomatoes, eggplant can be susceptible to blossom-end rot which can be combatted most easily with consistent watering to aid in the absorption of calcium. If your soil’s calcium levels are low, a few crushed eggshells buried around the base of the plant are often enough to feed the plant throughout the season. Other common pests might attack the leaves of your eggplant and can be prevented with a simple spray solution made from boiling a few chilis and cloves of garlic for 5 minutes, straining, and then applying to the leaves to detract insects. Use this solution sparingly or only on young plants as it will also repel beneficial insects like bees and butterflies which aid in pollination.
Great companion plants for eggplant are tomatoes, leeks, and peppers.