Posted by
Sep 112009

Eggplants… in my mind one of the ugliest vegies in the Yummy Yard fleet! Of course, my colleagues here disagree, but seeing as I am writing this and they’re not, I guess I can say what I like! I grow eggplants not for the aesthetics, but for the exquisite flavour and versatility of a home grown eggplant. So, here’s how you can do it too!

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: September
Temperate Areas: Late September – October (after frost risk has passed)
Cool to Cold Areas: October

Position, Position, Position!

Now, here’s a bit of info you can use at your next trivia night… eggplants and tomatoes are related (just like cousins)! Position wise though, eggplants vary from tomatoes in that they like it warmer… a fair bit warmer. Eggplants can’t handle frosts at all, and, like me, they hate long periods of cool weather. Stick a few in a beaut sunny spot in the garden and leave about 50cm between them, as they can get pretty big. They’ll thank you for it!

Talking Dirty

Due to the family ties between eggplants and tomatoes (and potatoes and chillis), we need to remember the following two things: they love what tomatoes love, and they can’t be planted where tomatoes (or their other rellies) have been for at least three years. Check out the Companion Planting chart here for other good and bad neighbours.

So, just like tomatoes, top eggplants thrive in a fertile soil, rich with compost, pelletized poo and topped with a layer of straw. Eggplants will do even better if the bed is prepared for them a month before planting out, so whack it all in and count the days. The tip here is to ensure the soil drains freely, and isn’t too heavy (meaning really dense or clay). As with most Yummy Yards plants, ensure that the mulch is not pushed right up to the stem, as this can lead to collar rot and all sorts of nasties!

Feed Me!

Feeding your eggplants with poultry poo based granules just as the flower buds appear will do “eggsalent” things for the yield of your plants. If you feel the need to feed, and you missed the bud stage, make a chook poo tea by soaking poo pellets in water, and giving it to your eggplants to drink. Other than that, the beaut rich soil in the bed you have prepared should provide a far whack of nutrients to these tasty tackers!

What about the Water?

Eggplants, like most Yummy Yardies, do not like to dry out, so keep a close eye on the soil moisture. Left to dry out, eggplants can produce hideous, misshapen fruit, making ugly even uglier… so, for the sake of a good looking garden, just don’t do it! Once again, a nice mulch layer will assist.

Are We There Yet?

Generally speaking, my eggplants take about 13 weeks to mature, bearing in mind that I live in the second coldest place on earth (second only to my lawyer’s office… that’s a joke, Mum). Eggplants can take varying lengths of time to mature (can’t we all), but, depending on variety, between 10 – 14 weeks is the norm. These guys are ready to roll when they are big enough to use, are firm, and the skin is glossy. Don’t leave them on the plants too long, as they can over ripen and go wrinkly, which makes them even uglier, and not so tasty!

Stake ya’ Claim!

Like their cousin tomatoes, eggplants need to stake their claim, and must be well supported in order to be productive and upstanding. Staking eggplants, especially the bigger fruiting varieties, prevents the vegetable equivalent of the “Dolly Parton”, where the plant becomes so top heavy with eggplants it is unable to support itself. Nice solid tomato stakes, driven into the ground about 10 centimeters away from the stem of the plant should do it. Join the stake and the stem together with an old stocking (don’t tie it too tight) and you’ll find this is the beginning of a fruitful and supportive relationship.

Pests and the Rest

Eggplants don’t seem to suffer from an enormous amount of pest and disease issues, but, being related to tomatoes and friends, they are susceptible to the same suite of pests and problems. That said, diverse Yummy Yards, full of tasty treats and pretty plants, will attract a range of good bugs to your patch. These guys will make short work of loads of pest outbreaks. The other hot tips are a consistent watering regime, and crop rotation. Don’t plant these guys in a patch where tomatoes, chillis, eggplants or potatoes have been in the last two years… this lessens the possibility of disease. Also, Companion Planting and tomatoes go hand in hand.

Now, if all this fails and you do have an issue, never fear, Sustainable Gardening Australia is here! Below is a list of common issues, their causes, and a couple of solutions for eggstra-odinary eggplants!

  • Flowers fall off before the fruit forms – Could be caused by loads of things, including too much or not enough water, not enough light, over fertilising (I tried to warn you), possums or thrips. Check flowers for thrips, and, if you find them, click here for what to do next!
  • Leaves wilting – Ummmm… did you water your plants? This generally happens when humans are overcome by laziness, or holidayitis! Especially common during summer school holidays! Also, check to see that the eggplants are not mulched right up to the stem… this can cause awful things to happen!
  • White powdery patches on upper surfaces of leaves – Ahhh, me old mate powdery mildew! Often caused by water hanging around on the leaves of plants. Try to water the soil, rather than the foliage. Remove affected leaves and put them in the bin, not the compost. Click here for tips!
  • Holes in your leaves – Pretty sure it’s caterpillars.
  • Really ugly wet looking patches on the eggplant – It’s probably Blossom End Rot (if it’s at the bottom end) of the eggplant.
  • Plants falling over – did you read the ‘stake ya’ claim’ segment? And have you planted your eggplants in a wind tunnel? They don’t stand up to wind real well!

Now, one other issue that effects eggplants is fruit fly… these little devils love an eggplant grown in some of our warmer climes. I say warmer climates because the fruit fly maggots like to pupate (that means change from maggots to flies) in warm soil, and, like most southern gardeners, are not big fans of cold soil. This is great news for us in the cooler climes, but not so flash for those in warmer spots. So, my top tips for sustainable fruit fly control can be found here, but, before you head off, remember a great place to start is with garden hygiene. Remove any fallen or infested fruits; bag them up and ditch them in the bin… that’s an excellent discouragement for fruit fly larvae.

Hot Tip

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about looks (goodness knows I am well aware of that), but when it comes to eggplants, there are some really “out there” looking varieties and cultivars available. We all know about the big old “Deep Purple” varieties, but this is just “Smoke on the Water” (end of corny 1970s music reference)! Eggplants come in pink, white, stripped, green, lavender and intriguing combinations of the above. So, head to your local SGA garden centre to see what’s available. Go on, put some crazy colour in your garden, your mates will be impressed!

Why not try some other varieties as well, like Lebanese eggplants (you know, the long, skinny ones). These are dead easy to grow, and go really well in pots or containers. Because they have fruit of a smaller size, they are quicker to harvest so are good for climate with shorter summers. Oh, and while you’re at the garden centre, why not have a look at the grafted eggplants now available. These are said to be more disease resistance, more vigorous, and have a higher fruit production… why not try one and see!

But wait… there’s more! I was always told that eggplants needed to be soaked in salty water, then “de-gorged” under weight and left to stand before being ready to use. What a massive pain in the neck that ends up being, as anyone who has done it can testify. Well, here’s the big scoop: it’s not true!! Only the bigger, purple coloured eggplants need this, particularly if you have let them go a bit wrinkly and past it! The cute little Lebanese and Thai eggplants, along with many more of the smaller varieties don’t need it, so here’s my hot tip: Grow the wee ones, and save yourself the effort!

Eat Me

Eggplants and Mushrooms Chinese Style

10 dried shitake mushrooms
1 ½ cups water
3 eggplants
½ Cup vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
2 cm knob ginger
1/3 Cup soy sauce or tamari
2 tbsp rice wine, saki or other cooking wine or sherry
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil

Place shitake mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and cover with 1 ½ cups boiling water. Allow to soak while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Prepare rice and place it on to cook. (The absorption method is best)

Crush garlic and grate ginger.

Cut eggplant into thick wedges. Toss eggplant in 2 Tb of the oil.

Heat a large saucepan or wok over high heat.

Add eggplant wedges and cook over high heat until golden and soft. Try not to stir the eggplant too much but turn it methodically with tongs so it browns on all sides.

Turn heat to low. Add garlic and ginger and stir for 1 minute.

Add remaining oil, soy sauce, wine, sugar and sesame oil.

Strain the mushrooms, but reserve all of the cooking water.

Add 1 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid to the saucepan.

Cut stems of shitake mushrooms and save to compost. Add mushroom caps to the saucepan.

Bring mixture to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.

This is best served with homegrown Asian greens such as bok choi or choi sum. Simply stirfry with garlic and any left over mushroom stock.

  15 Responses to “Eggplant”

  1. Hi, We garden in Gladesville in Sydney and was wondering if you could advise please why our eggplants are not growing very big? There are plenty of them and they are deep purple in colour but don’t exceed about half the size of the fruit found within the shops. Perhaps we have a miniature variety? Any advice appreciated.

    • There are numerous varieties of eggplants from finger like to large and bulbous and from white, through stripes to pink and dark purple. If your eggplants are otherwise healthy I suggest you have a smaller variety. Try sowing the variety that you want from seed sown in spring in a sheltered spot. They are in the same family as tomatoes and capsicums and are not difficult to grow.

  2. Hi
    Live in geraldton wa
    Plenty of flowers but no fruit
    Have an answer as to what I need to do please

    • I suggest you contact Julie at The Drylands Permaculture Farm at Wagrakine near where you are. She has a lot of experience in food growing in your area. Their number is (08) 9938 1628 and they have a nursery and dryland permaculture farm where a wide range of vegetable varieties are trialled and grown. Their address is 333 David Rd. Wagrakine 6530

  3. My eggplants have finished producing and are looking tired. However, there is new healthy growth coming on. Should I cut them back and see if I can get another season out of them, rather than pulling them out? We do get frosts (last year was particularly bad). I’m in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria.

    • Eggplant, along with tomatoes, are perennial plants. With a few warm days in the Autumn they will often get a flush of new growth. You would be best advised to remove the plants as winter approaches and plant new plants on a new location in Spring.

  4. My eggplant plants grow and flower well producing lots of deep purple fruit. Then they turn yellow and green striped, stop growing and taste terrible. I have used tomato fertiliser on them but that has not helped. They are supposed to be the large purple eggplants. What can I do?

  5. I am in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne and have grown eggplants for the first time this year. They’ve all done very well, I’ve had a lot of lovely deep purple fruit as well as the Lebanese ones and the striped lavender ones, all were doing well until just lately they have all started to have an odd colour , the deep purple and Lebanese ones have a greenish hue and the stripey ones are losing their deep lavender colour. Google hasn’t helped me determine what might be causing this – we have had a very long hot summer here with no rain since early January, but I thought I had kept up the water to them – could I have over watered ? Or under watered for the conditions ?

    Also Last year I had masses of cucumbers and no powdery Mildue but this year very few cukes and terrible powdery Mildue – we did have a bout of humidity ( without rain) could that be the reason – or have I overwatered ?
    Any advice for next years crop please Gardeners ?

    • We are not sure about the eggplant situation, but think that they may have been left on the plant too long. Eggplants can change colour when they are over ripe.

      Powdery mildew grows well in moist conditions with greenhouses being such environments. If you have been watering a lot in warm weather or there wasn’t enough air circulation in humid conditions, it would be likely to develop.

  6. How do I know when plants have finished producing? When no more flowers appear? Also, what to do about the caterpillars that get in there and leave nasty trail of black, along with holes, inside the fruit?

    • As plants near the end of their life they will look a bit tired and lack vigour. Small fruit may not mature or may mature when they are small. To control caterpillars in the fruit is more difficult as you would have to spray the plants regularly as the adults lay eggs on the fruit. Try netting you plants with very fine netting or some fine see-through cloth to stop the adults gaining access to the fruit.

  7. In my patch I’ve got Lebanese Eggplant (doing fantastic) and cherry tomatoes right next to them (growing great, lots of flowers…..then very little fruit). I’ve even been giving the flowers a tickle and softly shaking the plants occasionally to give a better chance of self pollination.

    I’ve added plenty of organic material, straw mulch, plenty of water and some extra dolomite lime to the soil, but the cherry tomatoe just doesnt want to fruit!? Is this due to the companion issue you mentioned or something else? ie. the extreme heat we’re having in Melbourne, nutrient deficiency etc.


  8. Now this is a very old post, I know, but I don’t know where else to ask this question. Surely other people have noticed big yellowish to off white grubs, which leave lots of black gunk in their egg plants and tomatoes? Last season I kept some of those in a jar, they turned into pupae and then into what looked like a moth. Trying to ask our local Department of Agriculture about this produced no advice other than spraying Carbaryl or something equally poisonous. Nothing even about when to spray etc. There is no mention of this pest in any of the information leaflets either. So where do I get some advice? Please, we love eggplants, and I have again planted them, but this pest spoils almost every one of the fruits and I have no idea how to protect my plants. If anyone out there knows something about this, please post!

    • The grub you are having a problem with is most likely a Bollworm. They are very common and widely distributed and attack fruit of Solanaceae (Eggplant, Tomato, Capsicum). The black mess is their droppings and is usually seen clearly on the skin of Tomatoes. If the infestation is not too severe you could dust with Tomato Dust containing Spinosad. This is a bacteria that infects the body of the caterpillar, meaning that this is a biological control. It is a bit unsightly and you must wash the residue off the fruit before you eat it, but if you get the infestation early you may only need to do it once or twice. You can get Spinosad in a liquid form as well. However, if the infestation is very heavy (almost all fruit infested), or you do not want to use the dust, then you can break their cycle by not growing any Tomatoes, Capsicums or Eggplants for one season. It may seem drastic, but it’s a short term sacrifice and usually friends, neighbours and family will be happy to satisfy your Eggplant needs. Make sure you do not leave infected fruit lying around and if you compost, try to have the compost area well away from the vegie garden and try to get as much heat into the compost as possible.

      The grubs like the fruit at just about the same time as you do, so just as they are ripening. Dust them just before the first lot ripen. You may have to repeat, but follow the instructions on the pack and make sure to follow the withold instructions. If you purchase the dust from a nursery, then you can check with the nursery staff. Your neighbours might like to know if they are having the same problem then you can all tackle it together.

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