Eggplant

Think eggplant and you probably picture big purplish black fruits. But hold up a minute, there are varieties that produce green, lavender, white and striped fruit. They are not all egg shaped either. Eggplants are low in calories -- about 30 per cup, cooked. It is an excellent source of fiber and fairly good source of potassium and folic acid. There is an advantage to growing your own that you can’t get at the market. If it is grown right and picked at the right time, you get an eggplant that is sweet and mild tasting with soft buttery flesh. The best known type, called black beauty, was introduced in 1902. It is probably the best for baking and making Parmesan-style. The slices will hold up well on the grill. But eggplant is a warm weather lover and Black Beauty may not be easy for us folks in the north. Look for a variety called Dusky which can be harvested in 63 days, or Pirouette that ripens in just 50 days. But if you have the longer growing season, consider some of the Asian varieties. Louisiana Long Green, an American version of the Asian type is known to be succulent, soft and buttery. It’s also more forgiving than other varieties, in that you can pick it late without it getting bitter. It needs 100 days to mature. But Thai Long Green grows 12 -14 inch fruits in just 80 days. For stir frying you can’t beat the white variety, Casper (like the ghost?), and Rosa Blanca is excellent on the bar-be-que.

Buying seed and starting your own transplants is probably the only way to try one of the varieties I’ve mentioned. I don’t know about you, but the only kind my garden center carries is the old standby-Black Beauty. Plant your seeds in warm soil (75° to 90° F or 23° to 32° C) under lights, in a green house or in any sunny spot in the house; they will germinate in 10 days to two weeks. Always keep the spouts moist and fertilize your growing plants every week or two with dilute fish emulsion. Your transplants can be set outside to begin hardening off as soon as the temperature stays warmer than 65° F (18° C). But don’t be too hasty to move your eggplants out into the garden. If the nights are too cool, the flowers will just fall off. Eggplants are pickier than peppers and may not recover if set out too soon - they just give up. A good rule of thumb is to wait until the roses are in bloom in your area. If you live in a cooler climate like me, try warming the soil with a black plastic mulch, or some of that high tech IRT stuff (infra-red transmitting) and keep the eggplants under floating row covers all season. (You have to really love your eggplants!) Allow two feet between each plant, and protect from the sun for a few days after transplanting. To get a good crop of eggplant, weeds must be kept to a minimum. Like their cousins tomatoes and peppers, eggplants produce best in mineral rich soil. Ground oyster shell or egg shells, and wood ashes are in order. Eggplants are moderately deep-rooting and can be grown on a wide range of soils. They do best on light-textured soils such as sandy loams that are deep and free-draining. A soil pH in the range 6.0–6.8 is best. They will also benefit from a foliar spray of seaweed. Apply it at the beginning of bloom and again every two weeks. Adequate water is necessary, if they water stress, they turn bitter. Learned this one the hard way. If you live in an area with hot dry spells, and you can’t supplement the water. Then try the Long Green varieties I mentioned, they are more forgiving. A thick mulch applied after the soil is good and warmed up will help control weeds and maintain soil moisture. It has been found that eggplants are more productive if staked, and fruits are easier to harvest.

Eggplants are VERY susceptible to verticillium wilt. So they should not be planted where you had tomatoes last year. If flea beetles are a problem in your area, keep your eggplants under floating row covers until early July, when the beetles die off. Cut worms like eggplants, so make collars out of cardboard and place around the base of the stems. Pick your eggplant when the skin is still shiny and before the seeds are mature. Dull skin indicates over- ripeness. They are sweetest if harvested when they are about two-thirds their normal size.

The more you harvest the more they will produce, so don’t let any mature ones stay on the vines. Don’t try to break or pull the fruits, use scissors or hand pruners to avoid tearing the main stem. As the season draws to a close, pick off any blossoms or immature, undersized fruits to encourage the plants to put all their energy into the few remaining fruits before frost hits. 

Eggplants do not store very well and are best eaten fresh. They can be pickled however. Eggplants are quite attractive as patio plants and will do well in containers as long as you have a soil mix that is able to retain large amounts of water. Add plenty of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite or well rotted compost to prevent drying out and soil compaction. But be prepared to water them a lot. If verticillium wilt is a big problem in your soil, try a sterile potting soil that you get from the gardening store in a container and avoid the problem altogether.

Eggplants produce viable seeds when the fruits are past the good eating stage. Make sure you are collecting seeds from an open pollinated variety and not a hybrid. Scrape out the seedy pulp, rinse the seeds clean, and float off any light weight seeds. It isn’t necessary to ferment the pulp. Dry them thorough before storing. Eggplant seeds lose viability more quickly than those of peppers or tomatoes.

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Tomato Hornworms

Hornworms are the larva of a huge moth called five-spotted hawkmoths. Approximate size of the moth is around the size of a hummingbird so you can't miss them. The moth is gray-brown with yellow spots on the sides of their body. The caterpillars are huge (7-10cm) and are green-brown color, v-shaped markings on the body and unmistakable 'horns'. The eggs are green and are laid on the underside of leaves. Moths lay their eggs as soon as they mate after hatching. They appear in late June to August. Full grown larva (3-4 weeks feeding) wander around the garden digging themselves in where they form a pupa (brown and about 3cm long) that overwinters and hatches in the spring. They feed on leaves and stems of tomato plants. Occasionally they will also eat the fruits later in the summer months. They also feed on peppers, eggplant and potatoes. They can defoliate a plant in just a few days. A bunch of them can spell disaster.

Control

1) Hand Pick

They are so big you cannot miss these guys. If you don't want to touch them I recommend cutting them in half with the kitchen scissors or get the kids out there to do the dance of joy on the worms. In the fall when you turn your garden pick out the pupae and destroy.

2) Introduce Parasitic Wasps

Available from garden supply centers or catalogs, parasitic wasps (Braconid Wasps) lay their eggs on the worm. These are the cocoons of the wasp and their larva feed inside the host and will kill it.

3) Soap Spray

Spray the undersides of the leaves with a soap mixture to kill the eggs at the first sign of seeing the moths. A hard spray of water will also help if your plants are strong enough. Wiping the eggs off with alcohol on a q-tip is effective.

4) Bt

Use as directed on label.

5) Companion Planting

Plant marigolds as they are a deterrent.

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Companion planting tip

Plant nasturtiums- they give off ethylene gas which helps in early ripening of fruit (though too many may inhibit growth) Reduces aphids, cabbage worms, Colorado beetles;deters woolly aphids, squash bugs and whiteflies. Keep away from broccoli, brussel sprouts, potato, radish, squash.

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Herbs

Cardoon

grow from seed in almost any soil. To increase yield, cut down to ground level in early summer, feed and water copiously. New growth will be produced until well into autumn.

Hounds Tongue

usually gathered from the wild, but seeds may be sown in late summer. These need frost to stimulate germination and will not appear before the following spring. Grow in light, well drained soil in full sun. Plants succeed in seaside gardens and self-seed freely. Also called gypsy flower and rats-and-mice.

(Clove) Pink

easily grown on light, well drained chalky soil in full sun. May be raised from seed sown under plastic in spring, the seedlings potted up or transplanted outdoors to a nursery bed for planting in autumn. Also called (clove) gillyflower, carnation, sops-in-wine, divine flower.

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Always check soil moisture content before you work the soil. If the soil is too wet or too dry, cultivating can destroy the soil structure. You can do a rough moisture test by picking up a handful of soil and squeezing it. If the soil crumbles apart when you open your fingers, its too dry. If the soil forms a solid ball it’s too wet. If the soil holds together with out packing densely, it’s time to get out in the garden.

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Brandie

“One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides

 

 

 
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