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Lucas Holman: The excellent eggplant

Lucas Holman • Updated Jul 10, 2018 at 5:15 PM

I believe eggplants are one of those things that you either love or you hate. They can be used in so many ways, but most people only know them for eggplant parmesan.  

Branch out and try something new. One of my favorite ways to enjoy eggplant is baba ghanoush, which is a mashed and cooked eggplant that is used for dips. This dip can be used for bread or vegetables and makes for a healthy alternative to the usual vegetable dips.

Eggplants are warm-season vegetables that need to be transplanted into the garden after the danger of frost has passed. They need to be started inside about six weeks before the day you would like to transplant them. Transplants can still be planted now for a great fall harvest of fruit. The soil temperatures need be around 60 degrees for optimum growing conditions for the transplants. 

Spacing for their growing conditions require that the plants be spaced 24 inches apart. This allows for airflow around the entire plant to reduce the risk of a fungus from water sitting on top of the leaves.  

Some vegetables require staking or some type of support system, but eggplants do not require these and can be easily grown openly. Since they do not require staking, these make great plants that can be grown in a large container.

The one main issue we have with growing eggplants in Tennessee is flea beetles.  These beetles are tiny black bugs that will decimate the foliage quickly. You may completely miss them unless you’re looking for them. If they are not maintained at the beginning, your crop will fail. They affect many types of vegetables, but they seem to like eggplant just a little more. If a young plant can withstand flea beetles in the beginning, typically they’ll survive. Treating for flea beetles can be as simple as planting a “trap-crop” for them to go. One crop that will draw them quickly is radishes. Using row covers to completely block them out will also help prevent them from attacking the crop. Some insecticides that seem to have a good control on them include spinosad, diatomaceous earth and pyrethrum.  

Keeping weeds at bay and also keeping the foliage around the garden trimmed down also seems to keep them suppressed. Using a suppressant such as mulch or hand pulling is the most effective for weeds around vegetables.  

The one cultivar that most garden centers and nurseries carry is Black Beauty. It is the standard large, round, and dark eggplant that is mostly seen at local farmer’s markets.  It is one of the oldest varieties and has been around since the early 1900s.  Other cultivars that are noteworthy and are All-American Selection winners are Hansel, Gretel and Fairy Tale. Only five varieties of eggplants were awarded All-American Selection winners in the 90-year history of the AAS. All three of these make fruit that is slender and long and all three can be easily grown in a container. 

I grew Fairy Tale a few years ago and was impressed with the amount of fruit that it produced. 

The harvest from these slender eggplants can begin in around 55 days from transplant. Patio Baby is also an AAS winner that has fruit that is harvest between 2-3 inches and works well in a container on the patio. 

Harvesting eggplant can be tricky because you want to pick them at the optimum time. Typically, the slender ones are harvested when the fruits get 3-4 inches long, and the larger round ones are harvested when the skin is glossy and slightly soft.  

If you have any questions regarding your eggplants or any other horticultural matter in your garden or lawn, feel free to contact Lucas Holman, Horticulture UT-TSU Extension agent in Wilson County at 615-444-9584 or lholman1@utk.edu. Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides real life solutions. Visit ag.tennessee.edu for more information. 


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