Plant an eggplant in a pot, grate the Parm and wait
If you love eggplants but don't have enough space to grow them (or perhaps you don't have an in-ground garden at all) consider cultivating a few plants in containers.
Eggplants do surprisingly well in pots, especially if you choose a more compact variety. Head to your favorite local nursery and ask if they have seedlings of any patio-type eggplant varieties in stock. Varietal names to be on the lookout for include “Morden Midget,” “Patio Baby,” “Gretel,” “Pot Black” and “Amethyst” to name just a few choices. While you're at the nursery, pick up a pot, too. These short-statured eggplant varieties require a container that holds between 5 and 8 gallons of potting soil.
If you can't find a patio-type eggplant that will stay compact, go ahead and get a full-sized eggplant variety. You'll need a larger pot, though; one that holds between 8 and 10 gallons of potting soil. Don't skimp on the pot size. If you use one that's too small, the plant won't be as productive and you'll have to water far more frequently. I like glazed ceramic, acrylic, plastic or resin pots for growing vegetables. Terra cotta containers tend to dry out too quickly. Also, make sure the pot has a drainage hole in the bottom.
While you're at the nursery, also purchase enough high-quality potting soil and bagged compost to fill the pot. I like to mix the two together in a 50/50 ratio and then fill the pot with the mix. If you're growing a full-sized eggplant, buy a metal tomato cage, too. While the dwarf varieties won't need to be staked, regular eggplants often grow quite large and will require support, especially when laden with fruit.
Once you get home with your purchases, put the pot in a location that receives at least eight hours of full sun per day. Fill the container with the potting soil/compost blend, and plant the eggplant transplant in the center of the pot. Water it in well.
Most eggplant varieties require a fairly long growing season, with larger selections taking upwards of 75 days to fully mature. But, if you were able to find a patio-type, they typically mature a week or two faster.
As your plant grows, make sure the container stays well watered. This is the most important task when growing eggplants in pots. If the plants dry out to the point of wilting, you could end up with blossom end rot, a physiological disorder that causes a dark, sunken canker at the base of the fruits. Water deeply and thoroughly when the soil starts to feel dry. Do not apply small amounts of water every day. It's much better to water more deeply on a less frequent basis. In very hot weather, you may need to water daily.
If you're new to eggplant growing, be aware that the first few flowers may drop off of each plant and fail to produce, but the remaining flowers will each yield a single fruit. Eggplant flowers are self-pollinating, meaning they do not need insects for pollination to occur. If you don't seem to be getting any fruit at all as the season progresses, you can hand-pollinate the flowers to help increase the production. Use an electric toothbrush to vibrate to flower stems (not the flowers themselves) for a few seconds each to help the pollen move within the flowers.
Fertilize your container eggplant every other week with an organic, water-soluble fertilizer, such as kelp emulsion, fish emulsion, or a branded liquid organic fertilizer, such as Grow! from Espoma or Big Bloom from Fox Farms.
Once the eggplants begin to set fruit, it's time to watch for your harvest window. The eggplant fruits are ready to harvest when the skin is glossy and the pad of your thumb does not leave an impression on the skin. The more frequently the fruits are harvested, the greater the fruit set. Pick daily for the best production.
To harvest, cut the eggplants from the plant, do not try to pull them off. Leave a bit of stem intact to prevent rot.
At the end of the growing season, after the plants have been frosted, empty the container onto the compost pile. Clean the pot with a 10 percent bleach solution and a stiff scrub brush. Let it dry and store the pot for the winter. When next spring arrives, you'll be ready to fill it with fresh potting mix and a new generation of eggplants.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to email@example.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.