eggplant-grow-guide

Section 1: The history of eggplants (Solanum melongena)

“This plant groweth in Egypt almost everywhere… bringing forth fruit of the bigness of a great cucumber…. We have had the same in our London gardens, where it hath borne flowers, but the winter approaching before the time of ripening, it perished: nothwithstanding it came to bear fruit of the bigness of a goose egg one extraordinary temperate year… but never to the full ripeness.”

The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, by John Gerarde (year 1597)

Although eggplants come in virtually every shape, size, and color imaginable, the eggplant varieties first introduced to English gardeners were small, white and oval-shaped—giving them the appearance of eggs.

Aptly named 'White Egg' eggplant. This heirloom looks just like an egg and is probably nearly identical to the varieties first imported to Europe.

Aptly named ‘White Egg’ eggplant. This heirloom looks just like an egg and is probably nearly identical to the varieties first imported to Europe.

This is where the modern name “eggplant” comes from, although eggplants are also known by many other names, such as “aubergine.”

Origin of Eggplants

Eggplants are one of many species in the nightshade (Solanum) family. Other well known plants in the nightshade family include tobacco, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and potatoes.

The exact time period is unknown, but eggplants were likely domesticated thousands of years ago from wild nightshade species in southeastern Asia via Solanum incanum, the thorn or bitter apple.

The earliest known literary reference to eggplants is in Qímín Yàoshù (translated “Essential Techniques For the Welfare of the People“). Written around 544 AD, this work it still considered one of the greatest agricultural texts ever written. The author, Jia Sixie a government official of the Northern Wei Dynasty, painstakingly documented proven, ancient methods of plant and animal care and breeding practices, cooking, and afforestation.

From Asia, eggplants spread west through the Middle East, then into Northern Africa and Europe. They did not gain great favor as a food in Europe until the 18th century when less bitter varieties were bred from the cultivars originally introduced there.

Eggplants are a berry?

Even though eggplants are sold as vegetables, they’re botanically considered to be a berry. All parts of the vegetable, er berry, (skin, seeds and flesh) are edible and offer different nutritional benefits. The seeds are high in healthy oils and contain nicotinoid alkaloids, which gives them a somewhat bitter taste.

Eggplant skin (especially the dark-skinned purple varieties) contains high amounts of nasunin, a phytonutrient that is a particularly potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger that protects your cell membranes from damage. Nasunin and several other terpene phytonutrients in eggplants are also thought to significantly reduce cholesterol and improve blood flow.

Ready to grow your own eggplants? 

Thousands of years ago, villagers in southeastern China first began domesticating wild eggplants for use in their farms and gardens. Since then, eggplants have spread around the globe and become a favorite ingredient in many ethnic cuisines. Now they’re headed to your garden, where their grow journey continues.

Read this eggplant growing guide to learn how to grow eggplants organically! 


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eggplant-germination

Section 2: Seed Germination

Eggplants are native to the tropics so they love hot weather and are very sensitive to cool temperatures. 

As such, we highly recommend starting your eggplant seeds indoors to get a jump on the warm weather growing season. This is especially true if you live in all but the very southernmost regions of the US.

Eggplants need a long, warm growing season for good production, so the more mature the plants are when you get them in the ground, the better.

The two methods you can use to start your eggplant seeds:

  1. Germinate indoors (recommended): A more time-consuming approach since you have to to keep track of watering your seedlings and making sure they are getting enough light. However, most experienced gardeners start their eggplant seeds indoors since this approach provides earlier harvests and greater yields over the warm weather growing season. 
  2. Germinate outdoors (not recommended)  Less time consuming approach, but you don’t get yields until later in the season since you get a late start. With eggplants, you also risk not getting any yield since the plants need 90 days with nighttime temps in the 70s for optimal productivity.

Again, we highly recommend starting your eggplant seeds indoors, especially if you live in a moderate or cold climate region. Read the next section about starting your eggplant seeds indoors.



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Starting your eggplant seeds indoors

eggplant-germinationclick to enlarge

Part 1. WHEN TO START YOUR SEEDS

6-9 weeks before your last frost date is the ideal time to start your eggplant seedlings indoors. You can find your last frost date here.

Part 2. SOWING YOUR INDOOR EGGPLANT SEEDS 

Sowing depth: Sow your eggplant seeds 1/4″ deep in your choice of organic seed starting mix or potting soil (see recommended products below).

Don’t fill your seed cells with soil from your garden, since this tends to harden into an impenetrable brick. Instead, we recommend that you buy a ready-made organic seed starting mix or a light potting mix like Fox Farm potting soil.

Experienced gardeners or gardeners starting large numbers of plants often prefer to mix their own seed starting mix. If you want to make you own DIY seed starting mix, here’s our recipe.

We recommend starting your eggplant seeds in one of the following: 

No matter which of these three options you use for your eggplant seedlings, be sure to put a solid plastic seed tray or an old cookie sheet underneath them to keep water from dripping onto your floor or furniture. 

And don’t forget to label your cells with plant markers so you can keep track of which variety is which!

Part 3. GERMINATING CONDITIONS

Warmth:

The ideal temperature range for eggplant seed germination is 75° – 90°F.

Place your seed trays in a warm spot in your home (such as a sunny window). For best results, use a seedling heat mat (which is also very helpful for starting other summer seeds like peppers, ground cherries, tomatoes, etc.). We have significantly better germination time and rates with our summer seeds when using a heat mat.

Eggplant seed germination time: If your soil mix is kept damp and temps are maintained between 75° – 90°F, your eggplant seedlings will germinate within 7-10 days.

If the temperatures are cooler than this, your seeds may take an additional 1 – 2 weeks to germinate. Too cold (below 65°F) and your eggplant seeds will not germinate at all. 

Water:

To help with germination, make sure your seed containers stay moist, but not wet. The moisture level should feel like a well wrung-out sponge.

Be sure to also use a gentle watering method such as a misting bottle or a watering can with a very soft pour to prevent the eggplant seeds and soil from dislodging. It’s important that your soil mix be thoroughly moistened BEFORE your seeds are added, or you’ll have difficulty getting the soil moist without dislodging the seeds.

The frequency you’ll need to water your eggplant seedlings on an ongoing basis varies. Start by watering your seed containers every 24 hours unless they stay really damp. If that happens, hold off and check on them again in a few hours.

Note: Your soil will dry out faster on seedling heat mats or under hotter temperatures.

Again, go for the happy medium of soil with a similar dampness as a wrung-out sponge. Seeds allowed to sit in puddles quickly rot whereas tiny seedlings in crusty, dry soil will soon die due to lack of moisture.

Part 4. ONCE YOUR EGGPLANT SEEDS HAVE SPROUTED

Indoor Light:

As soon as your eggplant seeds have germinated/sprouted above the soil surface, place them in front of a sunny, south-facing window in your home (e.g. the window that gets the most sunlight throughout the day).

Do note that newer, modern windows block a lot of the light spectrum that plants need to grow. So if you have energy-efficient windows or don’t have a sunny south-facing window, you might want to consider getting grow lights for your seedlings. Here’s how to build your own DIY grow light system like we use.

It’s crucial that your eggplant seedlings get adequate light—an absolute minimum of six hours of direct light each day—otherwise they’ll quickly become weak and “leggy” (tall and spindly).

Tip: If growing in front of a window, periodically turn your seed trays so that the same side is not always facing towards the sunny window—this will prevent the side furthest away from the window/sun from getting leggy or stretching sideways towards the light.

Outdoor Light:

When the daytime temperatures are over 60°F, you can start putting your eggplant seedlings outside in direct sun. However, if you don’t “harden off” your seedlings before exposing them to direct, unfiltered sun, you risk them becoming sunburned.

You can read more about how to harden off your eggplant seedlings in the Transplanting Outdoors section below.

Part 5. FEEDING YOUR EGGPLANT SEEDLINGS

The first two leaves on your eggplant seedlings are called “cotyledon” leaves. The next leaves that develop are the first set of “true leaves.”

pepper-leaves


Image above shows first true leaves on pepper seedlings, which look very similar to eggplant seedlings.

About 10-14 days after germination, your eggplant seedlings will get their first true leaves. At this point, you’ll need to consider nutrition, depending on whether your seed starting mix did or did not contain nutrition.

When/if your eggplant seedlings need nutrition (yellowing leaves or stunted growth are sure signs), you have two options:

  1. Use Organic Liquid Fertilizer – Start applying a water-diluted organic liquid fertilizer 1-2 times per week. (We like liquid kelp fertilizer.) Dilution ratios vary from product to product, but watering at half-strength (half of what the bottle recommends for feeding mature plants) is a good rule of thumb for seedlings. Be aware that over-fertilizing your plants can make them extra attractive to pest insects like aphids which can proliferate rapidly indoors since no predatory insects are around.
  2. Transplant Seedlings Into Larger Pots/Cells: This is also called “potting up” in gardening lingo. If your eggplant seedlings need nutrition or are running out of space in their smaller cells, you can transplant them into larger, 3-4 inch diameter pots or cells using a seed starting mix that contains worm castings, compost, or slow release organic fertilizer.

Next, keep a close eye on your eggplant seedlings to make sure they stay healthy: well-sunned, well-fed and well-watered until your last frost date has arrived. You’re almost ready for transplanting!


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eggplant-transplanting

Section 3. Transplanting Outdoors

Part 1: “HARDENING OFF” YOUR EGGPLANT SEEDLINGS  

Tomatoes: hardening for transplanting outdoors

Outdoor direct sunlight is always more intense than either indoor grow lights or light filtered through a window.

Many new gardeners make the mistake of immediately transplanting their seedlings outdoors into direct sunlight before hardening them off. This mistake can cause extreme sunburn that severely damages or kills your eggplant seedlings.

To be safe, plan to harden off your eggplant seedlings outdoors over the course of a week as follows:

  • Days 1-3: Place your eggplant seedlings outdoors in a shady spot that will only get 3-5 hours of direct sunlight throughout the day.
  • Days 4-5: Place your seedlings in a slightly sunnier spot that will get about 5-6 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Days 6-7: Place your seedlings in a full sun spot (6+ hours of direct sunlight).

During this transitional period, be sure to pay attention to these factors: 

  • Water – If your eggplant seedlings’ leaves appear limp, this is likely due to lack of water. Try to keep their soil moist, but not wet.
  • Sunburn – If you notice your eggplant seedling leaves beginning to look white and papery, they’ve gotten sunburned. Put them in a part-full shade spot for a few days and allow them to recover. Again, if you don’t properly harden off your seedlings, they can get severely sunburned, which will either slow their growth to a crawl while they recover or possibly kill them (if they’re small or weak).
  • Cold – Be sure that you bring your eggplant seedlings inside any time the temperatures drop into the 40sºF.  

Part 2: TRANSPLANTING EGGPLANT SEEDLINGS OUTDOORS 

A. Last Frost Date

Eggplants are especially cold-sensitive. We recommend waiting  a minimum of 2 to 3 weeks after the average last frost date to transplant them outdoors. Cool conditions can weaken the plants and even a light frost is likely to kill them.

At 2-3 weeks after your last frost date, make sure to look at your local 10 day weather forecast on www.weather.com. If you see any day or night temperatures below 55°F, hold off on planting. This tip has saved us quite a bit of heartache over the past few years as extreme weather and temperature fluctuations have becomes the “new normal.”

B. Eggplant spacing and placement

Plant spacing (distance between plants) and row spacing (distance between rows) is important to consider when planting your eggplants. As a general rule for eggplant spacing is 18″ between plants and 3′ between rows.

C. Soil Amending 

If you don’t have rich, healthy soil where you plan to grow your eggplant seedlings, consider getting worm castings and/ororganic fertilizer to amend your soil as follows:

  • Worm castings and/or quality compost – Dig a 1′ x 1′ hole and fill it with 50% castings and 50% garden soil before transplanting your eggplant seedlings.
  • Organic fertilizer – Loosen the soil in a spot about 3-4x larger than the eggplant seedling root ball. Mix in slow release fertilizer at the application rate described on the product package, then transplant your seedling into the spot. 

When filling the hole back in around the eggplant seedling, the soil used should be actual soil. You should not fill the hole with recognizable chunks of mulch, kitchen scraps, leaves, lawn clippings, or other undecomposed organic matter. 

D. Top-Dressing Your Beds With Mulch 

We can’t overemphasize how important top-dressing your beds with wood chips or mulch is for:

  • building and maintaining healthy soil,
  • regulating soil moisture & temperature, and
  • blocking unwanted plants – aka “weeds.”

After you plant your eggplant seedlings, make sure to put at least a few inches of mulch on top of the soil surface around your plants, if it’s not already there.

Again, mulches should always remain on the surface of the soil (aka “top-dressing”), not be incorporated or tilled into the soil.

If you have ever heard of mulches or compost “stealing” nutrients from garden plants (especially nitrogen), mixing carbon-rich mulches into the soil instead of letting it sit on top of the soil is what causes this problem. You can read more about your plant’s long term soil requirements in the Sun, Soil, and Water section below.

E. Watering

Immediately after planting, give each newly transplanted eggplant seedlings a deep watering around the base of the plant. This does the following: 

  • helps the surrounding garden soil fill in around the root ball;
  • allows your eggplant seedlings’ roots to fully come into contact with the garden soil;
  • expedites plant growth and minimizes transplant shock.  

F. The Stick Trick

Newly transplanted seedlings are often chopped down by cutworms, which come by their name because they chew through the base of young seedlings, killing the plant.

We’ve had 100% success stopping these pests. We simply find a stick roughly the same thickness as a toothpick and stick it in the ground right next to the stem of our seedlings. When the cutworms come along and feel around the seedling, it is tricked into thinking that the plant is too tough to cut down, so it moves along to its next victim.

A tomato seedling using

A tomato seedling protected from cutworms using “the stick trick.” You can see the stick inserted into the ground to the right of the tomato seedling’s stem. The same technique works for eggplant seedlings.

Part 3: EGGPLANT STAKING OR CAGING 

Most eggplant varieties top out at about 3′ tall. Nevertheless, the plants can get a bit unwieldy as they mature, especially when they’re loaded with fruit and a strong summer thunderstorm comes along. 

There are lots of different options for caging or staking eggplant plants. The two methods we prefer are:

  1. Stake & Tape – Drive a 4′ tall stake about 1′ into the ground directly next to each eggplant plant. As your plants grow, use plant tape to secure the main stem to the stake. By the end of the growing season, this might mean your eggplants are taped at 2-3 points to the stake — maybe more for large-fruited eggplants that need extra support.
  2. Small cages – You can buy wire cages from gardening centers, but these tend to be flimsy and don’t last long. We prefer to make homemade 2.5′ diameter x 4′ tall cages for our eggplants using concrete reinforcing wire. Our cages have lasted for 10+ years. Here’s an article showing you exactly how to make your own. Put these cages over your eggplant plants as soon as you transplant them and let the plants grow up into the cage. 

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eggplant-sun-soil-water

Section 4: Sun, Soil, and Water

Sun:

Eggplant plants thrive in full-sun spots (6+ hours direct sunlight per day). Planting eggplants against a light-colored wall or fence can also increase yields since they reflect light and heat.

Soil:

Eggplant plants perform best in rich soil with lots of organic matter.

Five techniques that you can use to drastically improve your soil health & biological fertility are:

  1. “hugelkultur” (click here to read about this technique);
  2. polyculture plant guilds (see “Guild Plants,” the next section in this guide);
  3. top-dressing your soil with 3-6 inches of wood chips/mulch twice per year in the fall and spring;
  4. using living cover crop mixes rather than leaving your soil fallow;
  5. using compost from hot composting methods (Berkeley method) or worm castings. Either: a) Apply the compost/castings on top of your beds, or b) Make actively aerated compost tea (AACT) to use as a soil drench or foliar spray. (Option b gives you the most bang for your buck.) Both methods of application drastically increase the quantity and diversity of beneficial microbes in your soil and on your plants.

All five of these soil building techniques can improve your soil fertility to the point that your eggplant plants may not require any additional fertilizer and virtually no additional water throughout the growing season once their root systems get established.

If you have poor soil or you do decide to use fertilizer, we recommend that you NOT use non-organic/synthetic fertilizers as these will have a compounding harmful effect on your soil over time. Instead, use a slow-release organic OMRI-listed fertilizer

Water:

Eggplant plants need approximately 1″ of water per week in normal summer conditions.

As your eggplant plants mature, their root systems will develop and will be able to get more water from the surrounding soil and mycelial web (the symbiotic fungi in the soil). If your soil is healthy, your plants have established their root systems, and rain is regular, you may not need to provide any additional water to your eggplant plants.

If you do need to water, be sure to:

  1. Water the base of the plants (not the leaves) in the morning, not in the evening. Wet leaves, especially overnight, can increase the risk of fungal diseases. 
  2. Water deeply. Shallow watering can lead to shallower root systems. 

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eggplant-guild-plants

Section 5. Helpful Guild Plants/Companion Plants for Eggplants 

Definition: A plant “guild” is a polyculture plant system (multiple plant species planted together) purposefully designed to create symbiotic relationships between species, increase plant productivity, and generate higher survival rates amongst the individual plants in the guild system.

If you’ve ever visited a “wild” ecosystem (mature forest or prairie), you’ve unknowingly seen plant guilds. Like people, plants tend to perform better in companion communities than they do as isolated individuals.

Some Common Plants to Consider in Your Eggplant Guild:

Vegetables

  • amaranth
  • beans – bush or pole varieties (if using pole/climbing varieties, use a trellis so the bean plants don’t block sun to eggplants)
  • passion fruit (trellised so as not to block sun)
  • peas
  • peppers
  • spinach
  • tomatoes

Herbs

  • lemon balm
  • mint (*catnip, lemon balm and mint are all in the same family)
  • tarragon
  • thyme

Flowers

  • marigolds
  • nasturtiums 

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Section 6. Edible Landscape & Containers 

Planting eggplants in your edible landscape. 

Eggplants are one of our favorite edible landscaping plants. Dark-fruited varieties tend to have purple tinges highlighting their large, silvery green leaves, bushy habit, and gorgeous glossy fruits while the lighter fruited ones can have deeper green to almost white foliage. Either is quite versatile when used in edible garden designs since they can be easily paired with warm or cool palettes.

Gorgeous 'Rosa Bianca' eggplants certainly stand out in an edible landscape!

Gorgeous ‘Rosa Bianca’ eggplants certainly stand out in an edible landscape!

You can use neighboring plants as accents or you can use eggplants as focal point specimens. Their ornate leaves and glossy fruit clusters barely need any preparation in order to be visually arresting. A simple cluster of 3-6 plants will automatically draw the eye.

Occasionally, early season flea beetle damage causes tiny plants to become stunted and less attractive, but we’ve found that giving young eggplant transplants plenty of fertility to encourage fast growth and planting beneficial insect attracting flowers nearby eliminates this problem fairly quickly. (Once an eggplant is large enough to photosynthesize plenty of energy for its fruits, you can remove unsightly leaves 2-3 at a time so it has a chance to replace them with fresh growth.)

Since beneficial insects like predatory wasps and ladybugs are helpful in growing strong eggplants, we recommend using the flowers that attract these garden protectors when designing your eggplant display. You’ll be stacking functions to support your eggplants for their best possible visual and physical outcome.

If you’re able to design and begin your garden well before the last frost, go ahead and plant some mȃche or cilantro/coriander seeds (which can handle light frosts) in 3 foot diameter patches where you are planning to put the eggplant transplants later in the summer. By the time you put in your eggplants, the mache or cilantro will be close to blooming which means you’ll have a much higher population of eggplant-protecting beneficial insects present to guard your new seedlings.

Thin the cilantro or mȃche at the center of the circle enough to ensure they won’t shade out the eggplants you tuck into the spot you cleared. Mȃche is a particularly good companion since it has an airy, baby’s breath look when it goes to seed (which you can save for next year) and it has shallow roots and low growth that won’t crowd the eggplant seedlings. Cilantro may need to be staked to prevent it from falling on top of its neighbors.

Other excellent “skirts” for young eggplants are low-growing/dwarf zinnias, cosmos, calendula, alyssum, and clover.

Planting Eggplants in a Container

As usual, much of the advice for landscaping with eggplants can be downsized for use in containers, so we recommend reading both sections. The biggest difference if you are using containers is that unless you are using a very large trough or growing box, we don’t recommend more than one eggplant per pot.

An eggplant and pepper plant sharing a large pot on our back porch.

An eggplant and pepper plant sharing a large pot on our back porch.

Additionally, the pot needs to be much larger than the minimum recommended size if you want to do a mixed container planting (such as with the popular “thriller, spiller, and filler” formula). Eggplants are definitely the “thriller” in this scenario. One option is to use mȃche as an early spiller/filler plant since it fades in hot weather and then trim it out of the pot as the eggplant begins to fill in the space. (Baby greens would also work well done this way.)

Other good “spillers” for eggplants include:

  • prostrate rosemary,
  • Greek oregano (while it’s small),
  • sculpit,
  • perennial arugula, and
  • (for very large pots) several pole beans or a single trailing cucumber plant that you continually wind around the base.

Some “filler” options are:

  • cilantro,
  • dill,
  • flowering radishes or turnips (for seed saving and edible young pods),
  • parsley,
  • basil,
  • zinnias, and
  • cosmos.

These complimentary plants would also look nice in individual pots surrounding the eggplant’s container.

Eggplant leaves and fruit look great with nearly any color. Pair their silvery-green and purple-tinged foliage with a silver, red, or white pot (clean and modern ceramics for an elegant look or more vintage or cottage-like with upcycled chalk painted items or galvanized metal tubs). Alternately, go for a showy, festive display with a bright Mexican patterned glaze, a solid orange pot, or a matching purple container.

Another benefit of growing eggplants in containers is it is easier to make sure they stay warm for the best possible harvest! If cool weather threatens, you can simply move them indoors until it warms again. 

There are several pepper plants tucked away in this highly diverse organic edible home landscape.

A highly biodiverse organic edible home landscape that includes many popular summer edibles, including eggplants.

Eggplant pot sizes and recommendations  

  • Container Spacing for maximum eggplant harvest: Minimum container size – 5 gallons (per plant), approx. 12-14 in. diameter, 8-14 in. deep.

Eggplants are excellent performers in pots. Given the variety of fruit colorations available (white, pink, purple, speckled, striped, etc), they can be paired with any container design you choose.

Consider making or purchasing a SIP (Sub-Irrigated Planter) to make it easier to keep their irrigation levels consistent. SIPs can look utilitarian or extremely ornamental depending on your budget or crafting skills. We like them made from galvanized tubs or upcycled found objects when we need to pinch pennies.

You can also turn just about any container you have into a SIP, or hide a SIP inside a more attractive pot.



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eggplant-pests-diseases

Section 7. Common Pests & Diseases

During (Indoor) Seedling Stage

Indoor seedlings are more susceptible to certain pests than outdoor plants since there aren’t any predator insects to keep their populations in control. Common problems you might encounter during the germination and seedling stage of your eggplants:

  • Aphids – Description: Small sap-sucking insects that proliferate on young plant stems and the underside of young leaves. Symptoms: Sticky leaves; curled leaves; weakened, limp or dying plants despite adequate water and nutrition. Organic Treatment: insecticidal soaps, horticultural oil sprays, organic insecticides (neem, pyrethrin, etc.). The more time you can get your seedlings outdoors, the less problems you’ll have from aphids. Outdoors, aphids are a favorite snack for ladybugs, parasitoid wasps and other predatory insects.
  • Whiteflies – Description: Small, white flies that proliferate underneath leaves. Symptoms and Organic Treatment: Same as aphids (above).
  • Fungus Gnats – Description: Small dark-colored gnats; the small, white-colored larvae live in soil and eat the roots of young seedlings. Symptoms: Seedling growth rate slows and seedlings eventually die if untreated. Organic Treatment: For prevention, we’ve had success by mixing diatomaceous earth into our potting soil. (If you’re a more advanced grower, you can also use Ladbrooke seed blocks and bottom water, rather than top-watering to prevent moist surfaces on your planting blocks that allow fungus gnats to lay eggs and proliferate.) For treatment after noticing a fungus gnat problem, we’ve had the most success by adding beneficial nematodes (specifically Steinernema feltiae or S. carpocapsae) to our potting soil.
  • Damping Off – Description: Death of young seedlings caused by fungal disease. Symptoms: Young seedlings wither and die, sometimes suddenly. Organic Treatment: Prevention is the best cure for damping off. Use a sterile potting mix; sterilize your reused seed trays before using them; occasionally water your seedlings with a 10 parts water: 1 part hydrogen peroxide mixture; don’t overwater; try to keep your seedlings in an area with good air flow; if a seedling or seedling tray gets damping off, immediately remove it from your seedling area.

After Transplanting Outdoors

  • Aphids – Description: See above. Symptoms: Weakened, sickly plants if an infestation occurs and predator insect populations are not present to remediate. Organic Treatment: Spray off the aphids with a hose. You may also wish to use an insecticidal soap, neem oil or horticultural oil for more serious infestations. Before taking action, consider waiting a few days to a week to see if predator insects help solve the problem. Aphids are a favorite snack for a wide range of insects. We almost always return to an aphid infestation a few days later to find the population diminished or completely eaten by other insects and/or parasitized by our native wasps.
  • Flea Beetles – Description: Tiny black beetles. Symptoms: Small holes in the top and underside of a plant’s leaves. Organic Treatment: Use row cover for complete protection and/or to prevent early damage that can inhibit plant growth; more mature eggplants can usually easily outgrow flea beetle problems. Insecticidal soap, neem oil or horticultural oil can help prevent or remedy more serious infestations.
  • Colorado Potato Beetles – Description: Yellow and black striped adult beetles; tan or red-colored larvae; bright orange clusters of eggs on the underside of leaves. Populations can usually be easily kept in check by handpicking beetles, larvae and eggs with gloves.
  • Cutworms – Description: Ground-crawling larvae/caterpillars that eat through the stems of young tender seedlings. Symptoms: Young seedlings chopped down just above ground level. Organic Treatment: Two easy options: 1) insert small toothpick-sized stick in ground directly next to stem of seedling – this tricks the cutworm into thinking the plant is harder and woodier than it actually is; 2) place cardboard collars around transplants to form a protective ring.

Identifying Eggplant Pests & Diseases – Do you have a eggplant pest or disease that you’re trying to identify and treat that’s not covered in the list above? Here’s a comprehensive eggplant pest & disease key from the University of Maryland Extension.

Organic Pest & Disease Management Products

If you need to buy trustworthy, organic pest and disease control products that work, be sure to check out the curated Pest & Disease Management products in our online store

Please take a holistic approach to pest and disease management 

A healthy garden needs pest insects. Pest species provide food for beneficial species. A garden ecosystem that’s teeming with life will tend to hold the population of any one species in check.

We’ve found that by focusing on improving our soil health and using polyculture plant systems that attract and nurture a wide variety of insects, we’ve virtually eliminated all pest and disease problems from our garden.

We’d like to encourage you to be thoughtful in your approach to these potential problems. Is your soil healthy and teeming with microbial life? Have you planted other beneficial plants throughout your garden system that might help with the problem? If you wait a few days, will the “pest” become the food of a predator?

Observe your garden system and think holistically before taking any action that could disrupt the web of life. Pesticides kill beneficial insects too, not just pest insects; fungicides kill beneficial funguses too, not just “bad” funguses; etc.

Personally, we’d rather lose a plant than accidentally harm or kill wildlife.



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eggplant-harvesting

Section 8: Harvesting 

Each eggplant variety is different. Some are small, white and round. Others look like large purple balls and others are long and thin.

Generally speaking, most eggplant varieties have an ideal size where they should be picked and this will often be indicated on the seed packet. If you let the eggplants get larger or older than the recommended size, they can become bitter. Unless you plan to save seeds for future growing seasons, be sure to harvest your eggplants within the size range recommended for the variety you’re growing.

One good way to tell when your eggplants are perfectly ripe: push your thumb into the skin. If the eggplants are underripe, they’ll be too hard to leave an indentation. If they’re perfectly ripe, your finger will leave an indentation but the indentation will bounce right back. If overripe (too mature), the indentation will stay.    

How do you harvest eggplants? Simple! Just take a pair of clippers and cut the stem off where it attaches to the plant, being sure not to damage the plant in the process.

Eating eggplants

Eggplant parmesan. Baba ganoush. Asian stir-fries. Grilled eggplants with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and garlic powder… Eggplants are wonderful in a wide variety of dishes and their flavor and consistency adds a robust, meaty quality to dishes. 

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Section 9: Saving Seeds

Seed-saving is a critical step for ensuring that seeds are passed down from generation to generation, so please give it a try and also be sure to share your seeds with other people.

Another benefit: seeds you’ve properly saved from your own garden will be better adapted to your specific growing environment via natural epigenetic processes. You can make new organic, open-pollinated eggplant seeds as follows:

1. Select the best eggplants and healthiest plants. 

Select the healthiest plants and the best eggplants (based on size, flavor, color, etc) for seed saving. Don’t save seeds from diseased plants.

You’ll want to leave the eggplant(s) you’re using for seed on the plant long past eating stage to ensure the seeds have plenty of time to mature to viability. Usually, this means the skin will have turned brown or papery in color. We leave our eggplants on to the point that they’re nearly rotten to ensure the best quality seeds.

2. Saving non-hybridized seeds. 

Eggplants are self-pollinating, but it’s ideal to plant them very close (within a few yards) of multiple eggplants from the same open-pollinated variety to ensure genetic vigor in the offspring. To make sure that they don’t cross with another variety of eggplant, don’t grow different eggplant varieties within a radius of 50 feet

If you have multiple varieties planted in close proximity, you’ll want to cover the flowers and hand-pollinate to ensure genetic consistency. 

3. Remove and dry seeds. 

Cut off the past-ripe/rotten eggplants from the plant. If you cut them off the plant before they were rotten, you can also store them out of the elements until they get soft and squishy.

Then, scoop out the seeds from the center of the “berry” (yes eggplants are technically a berry), pulp and all. Place them in a large bowl or bucket and add water. Stir vigorously. The pulp will float and the good seeds will sink.

Remove the pulp, and break up any chunks with your hands as necessary. Repeat the stirring, rinsing and separating process as-needed until all the pulp and seeds have been separated and your seeds are at the bottom of your container.

Pour through a fine strainer or cheese cloth to get the tiny seeds. Place them on a drying surface (indoors and out of the sun) like a plate, piece of wax paper, or a paper towel.

To ensure even drying, try to spread the seeds out so that they’re not piled on top of each other. Let the seeds dry for a minimum of 14 days, turning them every few days to ensure even drying. Make sure to label the drying surface with the variety of seed you’re saving.

4. Store your seeds. 

Once your seeds are fully dry, store them in an airtight container (add rice or silica packages to hold any moisture). You can also store the seeds in paper envelopes, although this will make them more susceptible to moisture damage over the course of several years.

How long do eggplant seeds last? 

Properly stored, your new eggplant seeds can remain viable (e.g. able to be grown) for at least 4-5 years.



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10. Additional Resources