the elegant vegetable

Eggplant holds an esteemed place in many Mediterranean and Asian cuisines

— caponata from Italy, ratatouille from France, moussaka from Greece, baba ganoush from all over the Middle East and nasu dengaku from Japan, where eggplant is the king of vegetables.

Eggplant is one of the ‘sponges’ of the edible kingdom and ‘salting’ prior to cooking helps reduce its natural absorption tendencies and removes any bitterness.

Eggplants are members of the solanum family, like tomatoes, peppers, chillis and potatoes, so it’s important not to plant them in a bed that had a solanum in it last year. Solanums take certain nutrients out of the soil when growing which means the soil can become depleted of the nutrients eggplants need. They can also contract diseases like blight which means the soil could harbour a disease that attacks any new crop that’s planted. Ideally it’s best not to plant vegetables from the same family in the one bed for a period of three years.

Eggplants like it hot, so wait until summer to plant seedlings out. Choose your site carefully as they also need all-day sun.

Plant seedlings in a compost-enriched soil about 50 cms apart. We like to give our eggplants a calcium boost with gypsum because it doesn’t affect the pH of the soil. Eggplants like a slightly acidic soil of pH 5.5 to 6.5 so you wouldn’t ever use lime. Calcium strengthens the cell structure of plants and helps to prevent blossom end rot. Then we apply a handful of rock dust to make the plants nutrient-dense and to keep them healthy. Next we add neem granules to ward off any possibility of a psyllid attack. And finally we give them a good dose of a nitrogen fertiliser like chicken poo or sheep pellets. Water it all in well.

It’s probably a good idea to net the bed to prevent birds or animals from disturbing the seedlings until they get established.

Ultimately you’ll need to mulch your eggplants to keep heat and moisture levels even throughout the growing period. But it’s best to wait until the soil heats up more before covering it, otherwise the mulch will inhibit the raising of the soil temperature.

If you live in an area that has big differences between day and night temperatures, we recommend you surround your eggplants with rocks or bricks or even drink bottles filled with water. They’ll warm up during the day and retain their heat into the night, radiating it out to the plants.

Eggplants will grow to about one metre tall and because of the weight of the fruit they will ultimately need staking.

They take 70 to 85 days from transplanting to reach maturity. Start harvesting your eggplants when the skins are nice and glossy and pressing firmly produces a thumbprint that bounces back quickly. Under-ripe eggplants are too hard to take a thumbprint, and overripe ones are so soft that a thumbprint leaves a permanent bruise. Use a sharp knife to harvest eggplants with their calyx intact.