Eggplant is easy to grow and some varieties are so beautiful they can be used as ornamentals. The flowers are gorgeous and the eggplants look like little (or big) molded sculptures.
A good container for the maximum yield and for ease of care is a grow box. A reliable, go-to grow box is an Earthbox. These self-watering containers provide a constant level of moisture, which is important for eggplant.
Eggplant is somewhat challenging to grow from seed, but it is worth the effort because there is a huge variety you can buy in seed form, while nurseries often only carry a few varieties. Eggplant seeds need warmth to germinate and cannot be planted too deeply. Look on the seed packet for planting depth. While you can direct seed eggplant, consider starting eight to ten weeks before the last frost date.
Once it starts to grow, it is a good idea to stake your eggplants before they get too large to avoid disturbing the roots once the plant is established. Most varieties will be fine tied to a piece of bamboo or a wooden stake sunk deeply into your pot. You can also build a bamboo cage or use a coated metal tomato cage.
Water and Fertilize Often
Eggplant needs a fast-draining potting soil, but also one that will not dry out too fast. If you are using a very light soil, you will have to water enough times during the day so that the soil does not completely dry out. If you let the pot dry out too much—sometimes even once—it can create problems for the creation of beautiful, unmarred eggplants. In the heat of the summer, depending on your pot size, that may mean you need to water your plant twice a day or more. Your goal is to keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet. If you are growing eggplant in a pot or container, it is also a good idea to use some type of mulch, like straw or wood chips to cover the soil, which helps to keep the soil moist.
Eggplant requires a lot of nutrients. Mix an all-purpose fertilizer into your potting soil at the beginning of the season and then do supplemental feeding with a diluted liquid fertilizer every other week during the growing season. However, if you are using a grow box system, you will only need to fertilize at the beginning of the season, according to the directions.
Expose to Sun and Heat
Eggplants are sun lovers. Make sure they get at least six hours of unobstructed sun per day—the more sun the better. Also, eggplant, like tomatoes, are heat lovers. One of the reasons grow boxes work particularly well, especially if you live in a cooler climate, is that the dark boxes heat up and warm the soil, thereby extending your growing season. If you are growing eggplant in regular containers, then during cool spring nights you will need to protect them from the cold by either moving them into a warm space (like a garage) or to cover them with a cloche or cloth.
Avoid Common Disease and Pests
Prone to nasty, soil-borne verticillium wilt, this disease should not be a problem if you use a high-quality potting soil. This disease is fairly common in traditional garden soil. Also, consistent watering is key to continued eggplant health.
If you see tiny round holes in the leaves of the plants early in the season, you could have flea beetles, but again, this is not likely to happen with potted plants that use a sterile potting soil.
Eggplant comes in a wide range of sizes, colors, and shapes. It can be white, purple, almost black, bright green, and speckled. It can be round, long and thin, or pear-shaped. You will need to know what kind of eggplant you have planted to know when to harvest it. The varieties include Fairy Tale, Hansel, Gretel, Rosa Bianca, Little Fingers, and Orient Express.
A good rule of thumb is to pick eggplant when the skin appears glossy and the fruit has a little give when you squeeze it. You do not want to pick eggplant before it is ripe. Generally, pick it when it is on the smaller side.
There are so many ways to cook eggplant, really, there is not a best way to cook it. But, if you want to experience the full flavor of a freshly picked garden eggplant, simply roast it. Leave on the skin and cut it into small pieces about a half-inch square. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Toss the eggplant with a little olive oil, some kosher salt, and pepper. Lay it in a single layer in a baking pan. Turn the pieces once or twice until the eggplant is brown and soft. You can eat it right out of the oven or cold the next day.