The Prettiest Vegetable

Who says you can't grow flavorful eggplants in your garden? The secret: Timing.

By Willi Galloway

Photography by Matthew Benson

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eggplants range in all shapes and sizes/Sow Your Own
Starting eggplants from seed sown indoors opens the door to an amazing range of varieties that are typically not available as transplants at nurseries.

Opt for fun varieties. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds lists more than 60 eggplant varieties, including "Listada de Gandia', an Italian heirloom that gardening writer Rosalind Creasy names as one of her favorites. Kitazawa Seed offers a range of Asian varieties, such as 'Konasu', a marble-sized Japanese eggplant with deep purple skin.

Start early. Sow seed about 9 weeks prior to planting-out date—for instance, to plant out in the first week of June, sow seeds the last week of March. Eggplant seeds germinate best in soil that is above 75°F, so place the seed trays on an electric heat mat.

Give them room. Eggplant seedlings grow fairly slowly. When the seedlings reach 2 or 3 inches tall, transplant into 4-inch pots to allow room for strong root systems to develop.

Harden off thoroughly. Before transplanting, transition the seedlings to the garden by gradually lengthening the time they are exposed to outdoor conditions. A 10-day hardening-off period is usually adequate.

Pretty in Pots
Eggplants grow well in containers. The technique is especially helpful in cool climates, because you can move the pot to a sunny, warm, sheltered spot. Rosalind Creasy gives the following advice:

Keep it clean. "I've had great success preventing disease by planting eggplants in containers filled with sterile potting mix," says Creasy. Empty and clean the pots annually before adding fresh potting mix.

Ornament the edibles. Plant the eggplant in the center of the container and surround it with colorful annual flowers, such as purple and pink petunias that will trail over the sides, suggests Creasy.

Go big. "When eggplants are grown in containers that are at least a foot-and-a-half off the ground, the flea beetles don't seem to find them as easily," notes Creasy.
 

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