Eggplant Secrets are Easy to Crack

With more than thirty years of experience growing organic vegetables, it’s safe to say Connie Zweck knows beans about eggplant.

Zweck Fresh Vegetables and Flowers is a USDA Certified farm in Longmont, Colo., where Connie and her husband Tom grow familiar favorites on their 17 acres.

“Because we have a market on the farm, we try to grow anything that grows in Colorado, says Zweck. This includes many different kinds of greens, beets, English and sugar snap peas, tomatoes and eggplant.

Although eggplant isn’t as popular as its cousin the tomato, it has a nice personality. “Oh, they’re just beautiful, with a lavender-colored flower,” she says. “They’re really pretty and I enjoy eating them, too.” About 150 of the plants are grown at the Zweck farm.

She prefers to grow the Italian type of eggplant, which is similar to the familiar pear-shaped American varieties, but smaller and thinner. She says she has better luck with these than the Asian type.

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The Eggplant ‘Hansel’ is a long slender variety that’s perfect for picking when it’s about 5″ long.
Photo Credit: © All-America Selections.
Used with permission

A key for growing eggplant successfully is to rotate where it’s planted in the garden so it isn’t growing in the same spot each year, she says. This prevents depleting the soil of nutrients and helps prevent disease.

Potato beetles are the number one enemy of eggplants because they can eat all the leaves and ruin an entire crop. Zweck recommends checking plants for the pests and hand-picking them off.

One mistake eggplant beginners make is waiting to harvest the fruit until they’re as large as those found in grocery stores. If left on the plant too long, eggplants lose their sheen, become seedy and won’t be as tasty to eat.

Zweck recommends picking the fruit as soon as it turns a bright, shiny purple. “They don’t have to be huge,” she says. “You can eat them when they’re very small.”

Over watering is another problem in the home garden. On the farm, the Zwecks water the plants deeply every five days. “Be careful not to get water on the leaves,” she adds. Fertilizer is added when the plants start to bloom.

Here are additional tips for growing eggplant:

Because eggplant is a member of the tomato family, it’s sensitive to cool temperatures, but likes hot weather. Eggplant varieties vary in shape, size and color. Miniatures, like ‘Fairy Tale’ grow on plants under 3 feet tall and can be grown in containers.

Eggplants are usually grown from transplants and take about 60-100 days until the first harvest. Plant them in full sun, in fertile, well-drained soil. Give plants plenty of room to grow by spacing them between 18-24 inches apart.

Water deeply and consistently; at least one inch of water per week. Mulch with straw, leaves or pesticide-free grass clippings to help maintain soil temperature. If necessary, stake to prevent branches from breaking and to keep the fruit off the ground.

Harvest eggplant carefully by cutting the fruit from the plant to prevent bruising. Leave the “cap” and about 1 inch of stem attached.

Eggplant is a versatile vegetable and is best used fresh from the garden. It can be grilled, fried, stuffed, baked, roasted, sautéed or stir fried. Two ways to preserve eggplant include pickling and freezing in pre-cooked casseroles.

Connie Zweck’s favorite eggplant recipe is called Crunchy Broiled Eggplant. Peel the eggplant, slice it and spread mayonnaise on each side and sprinkle with parmesan cheese; broil for about 10 minutes on an oiled cooking sheet, turn slices and broil for about 10 minutes more.

Copyright © 2007 Jodi Torpey
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