Think of eggplant recipes, and many of the flavors you immediately conjure up are Middle Eastern — the musk of cumin or the silky punch of tahini mixed with melt-in-your-mouth roasted eggplant. There’s a reason for that. Eggplants need a long, warm growing season. They thrived in India and Arabia long before anyone thought to try them in more northern climates. Fortunately, a garden in Damascus is not a requirement for eggplant cultivation, but a little extra care to give your eggplants the warmth they need will go a long way toward a successful harvest.
A few keep-’em-warm tips:
- Start your eggplants early, indoors, and move your containers outside only when all danger of frost is past.
- Find a microclimate. Do you have a wind-protected corner that gets lots of sunshine? A spot against a white wall that heats up during the day? Pick your warmest, coziest spot and tuck your eggplant pot right into it.
- Grow them indoors. The smaller varieties of eggplants (which happen to be some of the most beguiling) can thrive in a sunny window.
Click through for the rest of the primer on growing this oh-so elegant vegetable.
How many eggplant plants should you plant?
(That question sounds like the start to a jumprope diddy…) Most varieties will give you only five or six fruits a season per plant. That may be plenty if you’re growing eggplant mostly for the joy of watching their beautiful curves develop or for the occasional batch of babaganoush, but if you have big recipe dreams, you’ll need three or four plants.
What kind of soil and fertilizer do eggplants need?
Potting soil will do, but your eggplants will grow better if you do more than just plop them in the pot and forget them. They’re in the same family as tomatoes, which makes fertilizing them easy. Buy yourself some tomato fertilizer and apply it to your eggplants every two weeks.
How much space do eggplants need?
If you have a large container, you can grow more than one plant in it. Just be sure to give each plant about 24 inches to expand into. When your plants are about eight inches tall, pinch the tips off. This will encourage your plants to grow bushy and strong, rather than gangly.
How do I know when my eggplants are ripe?
You’ll know partly based on size, but there are two other tests. The first is the touch test. Gently press your thumb into the eggplants. If they don’t give at all, they’re not ripe yet. If the flesh gives but bounces back, they’re ready. If it gives, but your thumb leaves an indentation, you’ve waited too long. The second test is the shine test. You want to harvest the fruit when it’s glossy and reflective. Once eggplants turn dull, they’re past their prime, and the flavor is bitter and the texture spongy.
And a few more pointers…
Eggplant flowers are lovely lavender beauties, but they face downward, so bees can miss them. Put your eggplants near some insect-attracting flowers like marigolds or bee balm to make sure they’re pollinated.
Eggplants bruise easily, so rather than pulling them from the plant, cut them. Include the cap and part of the stem to keep them fresher longer.