Eggplants (or aubergines) originally come from South Asia, and tend to require high temperatures to harvest. Most often, you will see the fruits of an eggplant develop later in the summer as the weather has risen to higher heat. Technically, eggplants belong to the berry family and also the nightshade group of plants - but don’t worry, they’re not poisonous. Why are they called eggplants? When the British came across this plant variety in Asia they were small egg size white colored fruits that were all the rage. Over time the varieties have changed and eggplants have evolved into what they are today, but have kept their original name.
Eggplant plants grow tall and the fruits will hang off of the long stems of a plant. Similar to tomato plants, you will need to establish a support for the plant to grow larger. It is best to stake the plant as soon as it is planted into your garden to avoid disturbing the soil later. Soil high in compost and manure will help encourage growth for your eggplants because the plant requires warm soil and these components not only help the soil heat quickly, but also trap the heat. Eggplants also love the sun, so be sure to provide them with full days of full sun exposure.
Consistent watering of eggplants is best, these plants like for the soil to be quite wet. You should water to a point where 6 inches into the soil is still damp, but never soggy, you don't want to drown the roots. If you’d prefer to water less frequently, you can place a layer of mulch around the roots to avoid water evaporation, and if you are watering 6 inches deep you should water less often. Before watering again after a thorough soak, stick your finger into the soil and check the moisture level.
Eggplants are very susceptible to flea beetles. You will be able to identify a Flea Beetles presence by small pinholes throughout the leaves of the mature plant. One of the easiest ways to get rid of these beetles is to actually pick them off of the plant, or blow them off. Another common eggplant pest is the nematode - which are worms that exist in the soil. The breed we are concerned about in particular is the knot root nematode, which invade the root system of a plant underground. These tiny microscopic worms make holes in the root system which decrease the efficiency of water and nutrient uptake by the plant. It is difficult to identify nematode damage without digging up the root, so you may need to dig up a part of the root to identify any holes. If you have these pests, try planting some ground covering herbs round the eggplant. If the issue persists, remove the entirety of the plant.
How do you know when to harvest? The best way to gauge is when the fruit has a skin that is shiny, unwrinkled and uniform in color. If you press onto the outside skin of the eggplant and it does not rebound to its original form that means that the fruit is ripe. Once the fruit has ripened, don’t wait too long to harvest or else the fruit will become tough and the seeds will harden up. Once the eggplants are ready, they should be harvested once a week at minimum. It is suggested that you harvest twice per week. When taking your mature eggplants off of the plant, use scissors. The rigidity and strength of the plant will likely be damaged if you attempt to just yank the eggplant off.
Did you know that eggplants contain a small percentage of nicotine? Each eggplant contains 0.01% of nicotine, so in order to get the same level of nicotine as one cigarette you would have to eat 9 kilos of eggplant!
The main ingredient in Baba Ghanoush is eggplant and I highly recommend trying to make this dip at home with the eggplants fresh out of your garden. Another great alternative dish is to make eggplant Parmesan.