Growing eggplant is easier than you might think. I've neglected my plants for many months now but they still look happy.
Although eggplant seems to be the most common name, many people know them by other names, such as melongene, aubergine, garden egg, guinea squash or brinjal.
There are many eggplant varieties to try. 'Black Beauty Eggplant' is very common and it has a large rounded fruit. 'Thai Eggplant' produces smaller round fruit, often found in Thai curries. 'Little Finger' is a long eggplant which is actually somewhat bigger than your little finger.
The colour of eggplant varies from dark purple to white. Even green eggplant and yellow eggplant, as well as some streaked varieties are available.
Eggplant is a perennial member of the nightshade family which also includes tomato, bell pepper, tobacco and potato, to name a few. It's commonly grown as an annual and reaches a height of 60 cm to 1 metre.
Starting: The eggplant seed can be planted in a pot on a sunny window sill a few weeks before the weather warms up. Germination will happen in two or three weeks. Transplant out when about 15 cm high. Space at least 60 cm apart in a sheltered spot in the garden.
Soil: Well draining soil enriched with compost or manure.
Climate: A warm climate with a long growing season is needed to grow eggplant. To produce fruit they like heat and humidity. They don't tolerate frost.
Watering: Don't over water younger plants, but they will need increased watering when setting fruit.
Fertilizing: Like tomatoes, eggplants need regular feeding to produce fruit. Add some potash when the fruit appears.
Maintenance: Mulch underneath the plant to prevent soil from drying out. Restrict fruit formation to no more than eight.
Harvesting eggplant: You should be able to start harvesting in 16-18 weeks after sowing. Use a knife to cut the stalk of the eggplant fruit when it's grown to its specified size, and while the skin is still shiny. When cut open, the seeds should still be small and pale. If you leave the fruit to mature too long it'll become bitter.
Containers: Smaller eggplant varieties are suitable for growing in a pot at least 20 cm deep. Place only one plant in each container.
Shady areas: The plant will grow slower in the shade and may not mature enough to produce fruit in one season. I've had reasonable crops in the second year in this situation, however. Choose one of the purple varieties as they are more tolerant of shade. Watch out for mildew.
Pests and diseases: White fly, aphids, mildew, cucumber beetle, colorado potato beetle, and wilt can affect eggplant, but they are generally quite resistant. Seedlings can be attacked by the fungal condition 'damping off'.
Support: Fruits of some varieties can be heavy, so tie the plant up to a solid stake if needed.
Indoors: Where the climate is too cool, why not try growing eggplant indoors? Choose one of the smaller varieties and find a sunny window sill.