Western Pa. a good place for eggplants
I didn't really start to appreciate eggplant until I took a trip to Italy 10 years ago and ate some fresh-picked eggplant that had been sliced and grilled over a charcoal fire. Now, these delicious veggies find a place in my garden every year because, much like an heirloom tomato, homegrown is always the best.
Eggplants ( Solanum melongena) are a member of the nightshade family. Close cousins to the tomato and potato, this warm-season vegetable is quite at home here in Western Pennsylvania. A native of the Indian subcontinent, where its wild relatives can grow up to 8 feet tall, eggplants are true perennials. Plants can grow for years in climates that never dip below freezing, but here, they are grown as a warm-season annual crop.
To successfully grow eggplants, seeds should be started indoors under lights for eight to 10 weeks before the last expected spring frost, or transplants can be purchased from a local nursery.
Most eggplant varieties require a fairly long growing season, with larger selections taking upward of 75 days to fully mature. Be sure to select varieties that are appropriate for our region (some of my favorites are Rosa Bianca, Fairy Tale and Millionaire).
Much like other warm-season crops, including tomatoes and peppers, eggplant seedlings should not be moved out into the garden until daytime temperatures regularly reach up into the 60s and 70s and nights remain above 50 degrees, usually in mid- to late May.
Before planting, work organic matter into the soil and be sure the soil pH ranges from 6.5 to 6.0. Locate the seedings in an area where they'll receive a minimum of six to eight hours of full sun each day.
Eggplants prefer warm soil, so using black plastic to cover the ground for a few weeks before planting will speed up their growth, as will mulching the plants with dark compost.
A few weeks after planting, your eggplants will come into bloom. The flowers are white to purple in color, with bright yellow anthers. And though the first few flowers may drop off the plant and fail to produce, rest assured that the remaining flowers will each yield a single fruit, with each plant often bearing five or more fruits. The more frequently the fruits are harvested, the greater the fruit set.
During flowering and fruit development, be sure to supply the plants with adequate moisture, about 1 inch of water per week either via rainfall or supplemental irrigation.
The diversity of available eggplant varieties is simply astounding. Fruits can be dark purple, lavender, yellow, white, rose, cream, reddish-purple and even orange, depending on the selection. And their shapes are equally as diverse. Small egg-shaped varieties are perfect for single servings, while a single huge, teardrop-shaped fruit will easily fill an entire pan with eggplant parmesan.
No matter which eggplant variety you choose to grow, the fruits are ready to harvest when the skin is glossy and the pad of your thumb does not leave an impression on the skin. When cutting the fruit from the plant, leave the calyx and an inch or so of stem intact to prevent rot. Overmature fruit will be soft and slightly mushy, and the seeds will be brown, rather than white. Harvested fruit can be stored from 50 degrees to 55 degrees for up to two weeks before use.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Woman dies after bleeding on sidewalk outside Carrick pizzeria
- Unsung backups provide boost for Steelers defensive line
- Penguins lose hard-fought game to Blue Jackets in overtime
- Former Pirates pitcher Happ agrees to $36 million, 3-year deal with Blue Jays
- Run game needed for balance vs. Seahawks
- Body found in Allegheny River in Harrison
- Starkey: Flashback Friday for Pitt
- Unabashed church pastors put politics front and center
- Gilbert, son of ex-Pitt football standout, commits to Panthers
- Puppy, pals come to rescue of Lower Burrell firefighters
- Pitt falls flat in finale loss to Miami