Eggplants need plenty of sun to grow well.

With a growing interest in healthier diets and reducing meat consumption, the lowly eggplant is becoming quite a star. This is great news for gardeners, because it’s stimulating lots of new breeding efforts on the part of seed producers. We’re seeing interesting new varieties with better cold tolerance, improved disease- and pest-resistance and higher yields.

Case in point is Hansel, an eggplant that has been honored as one of this year’s 2008 All-American Selections (AAS). More slender than the usual grocery store eggplant, Hansel also has fewer seeds and is less bitter. It produces clusters of three to six fruits that begin ripening just 55 days after transplanting. Fruit can be harvested at finger-size, or can be left on the plant until it’s as much as 8” long. Hansel should be available this spring from your local garden center.

Compared with most other garden vegetables, eggplant can be a bit fussy. To produce well, the plants require warm, well-drained soil, at least eight hours of sun each day, consistent moisture (an inch of water a week) and plenty of fertilizer. Being a bit fussy makes them ideal candidates for containers, where it’s much easier to pamper them.

Some varieties of eggplant have purple stems and veins.

Eggplant are susceptible to the Colorado Potato Beetle. So, if this nasty pest is a problem in your garden, you may want to cover your eggplants with a floating row cover. Row covers also protect eggplant seedlings from flea beetles, which rarely kill the plant but can seriously stunt its growth.

Eggplants are also susceptible to verticillium wilt. The best way to protect your plants from this soil-borne fungus is to provide a compost-rich soil (compost contains lots of naturally-occurring disease inhibitors) and rotate your plantings to different locations in the garden (or for container gardeners, be sure to start each new season with fresh soil).

The fruit of an eggplant can be extremely heavy (especially for a relatively small plant). For this reason, it’s smart to use plant supports, such as our veggie ladders. They’ll keep fruit off the ground and will also prevent the whole plant from toppling over.

To learn more about growing eggplants, read the Fine Gardening article titled: Growing Eggplant Successfully.

-Kathy LaLiberte, Director of Gardening